The start of the Class 4A postseason baseball playoffs is a little over two weeks away. But for now, the Belleville West Maroons’ main objective remains winning the Southwestern Conference title.
Remaining in the thick of the race, the Maroons received another stellar effort from ace Luke Vallandingham and a pair of RBIs from Jack Lanxon, Logan Betz and Buddy Gore on Thursday in defeating Collinsville 12-2 at Fletcher Field.
West (15-6, 7-3) wasted little time in jumping on Collinsville starter Matthew Cook. After the Kahoks took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a single by Bailey Reed, the Maroons sent 10 batters to the plate in the second, scoring four runs and taking a 4-1 lead.
The Maroons added three runs in the third inning and then put the game away early with a six-run outburst in the fifth. The game was halted by the 10-run rule after five innings.
With the win, West remains two games in back of SWC leading O’Fallon (9-1) with four league games remaining. Edwardsville is alone in second place in the SWC at 9-2. And while climbing over two of the top high school programs in the entire state seems to be a tall order, Belleville West coach Todd Baltz said he knows that stranger things have happened in high school baseball.
“We’re still thinking about the SWC title and that will be our main objective until we’re mathematically eliminated,” Baltz said. “The SWC title is a coveted prize. Once and if we’re eliminated, then we’ll start thinking about the playoffs.”
With Vallandingham struggling with his control early, Collinsville scored again in the bottom of the second inning on a run-scoring double by Parker Marchbanks.
But the Kahoks (13-12, 4-6) could never recover from a nightmarish second inning which began with Cook plunking both Nicholas Oglesby and Gore with pitches and included two errors, a bases loaded walk to Lanxon and run scoring singles by Betz and Wyatt Parker.
“We gave them (West) a lot tonight,” a dejected Kahoks coach Pete Trapp said. “We didn’t do much right in any phase of the game.”
Cook, who shut out O’Fallon earlier this year, lasted just 2 1/3 innings against a patient hitting Maroons lineup.
Belleville West, which stranded five runners on base in the first two innings, added three more runs in the top of the third inning. With one out, Vallandingham singled and went to second when Nick Westerheide walked.
Lanxon then doubled in the first run and when Westerheide scored on a throwing error, the Maroons lead had expanded to 6-2. Seconds later, Lanxon scored on a sacrifice fly by Betz as the Maroons took a five-run lead.
“I thought we were very patient at the plate tonight,” Baltz said. “We talked about being more selective and going after good pitches instead of being overanxious and swinging at bad ones. We did a better job of that tonight.”
Vallandingham settles down
One of the top pitchers in the metro-east, Vallandingham lowered his ERA to 1.27 with his five-inning stint on Thursday.
After facing 11 Kahoks in the first two innings, Vallandingham faced just 10 in the final three innings and retired six of the final eight batters.
“I couldn’t get my curve ball down early in the game,” Vallandingham said. “I went to the fastball a little more as the game went on and I had better command.
“My teammates backed me up. They played good defense, made the plays and it’s always better to pitch when your team gets you 12 runs.”
West puts the game away
Batting around for the second time in five innings, the Maroons scored five times in the fifth inning.
Gore had the big hit, a two-run single while Oglesby and Cal Kossina added run scoring hits.