As he fills out his lineup card before every game, Waterloo Bulldogs baseball coach Mark Vogel is probably smiling just a bit.
The names he writes in are some of the most talented he’s had during 24 years of coaching, especially in the pitching department.
Waterloo (22-4) has won 10 in a row and 18 of its last 19 games. The Bulldogs locked up at least a share of the Mississippi Valley Conference title last week with an 8-3 victory over Mascoutah, pushing their league record to 8-0.
Waterloo also knocked off Columbia (4-1) and Gibault (5-1) on Saturday to win the Monroe County Tournament and the bragging rights that go with it.
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“This conference is so solid, so any time you can win a conference championships, it’s a special thing,” said Vogel, whose third-ranked Bulldogs travel to top-ranked O’Fallon on Thursday for a battle between large-school heavyweights. “There’s 10 very difficult games to play, so we look at this as as very rewarding and very satisfying.”
The same holds true with the Monroe County Tournament, which was played in Valmeyer this year. There’s a lot of baseball pride in all of the county’s programs and the rivalry attracts big crowds every year.
“That’s a big deal for Monroe County, it’s a big baseball county and a lot of people come out and watch the games on Saturday,” Vogel said. “We look at that just like the conference; it’s a very important deal to us.”
So are the back-to-back lineup spots held by seniors Jordan McFarland and Tyler McAlister.
McFarland, an Arkansas recruit and potential Major League Draft pick, is flying along with a .529 average that includes 10 doubles, six home runs and 27 RBIs. He’s also leads the Bulldogs with 41 runs scored and 32 stolen bases, six of which were pilfered Saturday during the Monroe County Tournament.
McAlister is headed to Missouri State as a pitcher, but is having a monster season at the plate as well. He’s hitting .390 with eight doubles, two triples, five home runs and a team-leading 30 RBIs.
“Jordan and Tyler in the middle of our order is obviously as good of a 1-2 punch as any team I’ve ever coached in my 24 years,” Vogel said.
Cole Kaiping’s retun from injury has been another jolt of momentum, since he’s hitting .522 wit four doubles, one homer and 10 RBIs in limited duty.
Leadoff man Kane Osterhage is at .411 with 31 runs scored and 22 stolen bases while junior Erik Kaiser contributes a .348 average, two homers and 20 RBIs.
Pitching a big part of it
Waterloo’s pitching depth is scary and formidable.
McAlister (7-1, 0.62 ERA) has 50 strikeouts in 45.1 innings and is still growing into a lanky 6-foot-4 frame.
“His velocity continues to get better,” said Vogel, who estimates McAlister’s speed at hovering around the 88-90 mph range. “The sky’s the limit for him when you look at that frame of his when he starts filling out more.”
Kaiser, a junior committed to Vanderbilt, can also reach 90 mph and above with his fastball. Kaiser is 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA and has 43 strikeouts in 32 innings.
He shut down Columbia at the County Tournament, limiting the Eagles to three hits while striking out nine.
“He’s really starting to throw the ball well, you can see him getting more and more comfortable in each start,” Vogel said. “Erik’s really just started pitching competitively in the last 18 months. He’s got an explosive fastball.”
Kaiser already had his scholarship to Vanderbilt last summer, but because he hadn’t pitched much few knew what to expect. Before this season he as known more for his hitting.
“To be honest, I hadn’t seen him pitch much so it was almost like getting a new kid in the program,” Vogel said. “He’s just really throwing the ball well now and you can seed why there’s so much interest in him late last summer.
“There’s no telling in a couple years just how good Erik’s going to be.”
Kaskaskia College recruit and senior right-hander Noah Thaggard (5-1, 3.05 ERA) adds big-game experience and talent. He has 45 strikeouts in 39 innings and Vogel said he seems to thrive under pressure.
“I have not had the top three guys with this kind of stuff before, so this is new to me,” Vogel said. “You can see how special it is.”
3A and 4A playoff pairings released
Belleville East and Belleville West played a friendly game at Busch Stadium over the weekend, but their next game will be May 26 in the semifinals of the Belleville West Regional.
Top-seeded Edwardsville will meet the winner of the Granite City-Collinsville game in the other Belleville West Regional semifinals.
The area’s other 4A regional is at Alton, where O’Fallon is the top seed. The Panthers will get the Danville-Pekin winner in the semifinals, while Alton takes on Quincy in the other semifinal.
Belleville News-Democrat High School Baseball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Belleville East (21-10), Freeburg (21-7), Collinsville (14-13), Columbia (17-11), Civic Memorial (15-12-1), Highland (13-15)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Mater Dei (4)
Also receiving votes: Valmeyer (19-14-1), Wesclin (14-12), Althoff (11-10), Gibault (12-15), Okawville (14-13-1)