Belleville East and Belleville West left a combined 24 runners on base Thursday at the Class 4A Belleville West Regional, any one of whom could have scored the winning run.
Instead the teams battled more than three hours and with darkness approaching, a 5-5 tie in the top of the 10th inning and no lights at the field, the umpires decided to postpone the game.
It will resume at 12:30 p.m. Friday with the winner advancing to the regional championship to face Edwardsville at 11 a.m. Saturday.
“Can you ask for anything else? Belleville vs. Belleville?” Belleville East coach Ryan Wiggs said. “It doesn’t get much better than that. It’s fun. Nothing better than the battle of Bellevilles, right?”
Neither coach could recall a similar situation in the playoffs.
“No I haven’t, but all we can blame is ourselves,” Belleville West coach Todd Baltz said. “We had plenty of opportunities. We didn’t make plays to hold them down and we’ve got nobody but ourselves to blame for putting us in this situation so we’ll come out tomorrow and see what we can do.”
Not only the score was tied, each team left 12 runners on base and a variety of pitchers took turns extricating themselves from the most precarious of situations.
Belleville East had a runner at third and no outs in the eighth, only to watch West reliever Cal Kossina wriggle out of trouble.
Kyle Rensing led off the inning with a single and pinch-runner Jalen Jones stole second and went to third on a wild pitch. He was there with no outs. After Kossina retired Patrick Gaul on a grounder back to the mound and struck out Trevor Sanchez, Baltz ordered intentional walks to Missouri State recruit Drew Millas and cleanup hitter Jordan Yates to load the bases.
Millas had tied the game 5-5 in the sixth on a two-out RBI single off West starter Luke Vallandingham that scored Gaul.
With the game potentially on the line and the bases loaded in the eighth, Kossina responded by striking out Isaiah King for the third out.
“I think that’s a no-brainer, really,” Baltz said of the double intentional walks to load the bases. “It wasn’t too tough of a decision; those are the two best hitters, they have been all year. (Millas) beat us once, he tied the game on a base hit ,so we weren’t going to let that happen again.
“It put a little pressure on Cal, but he took care of business.”
Wiggs said he had faith that King would come through.
“Drew and Jordan obviously have a good shot to drive him in, but we think Isaiah has a good shot, too,” Wiggs said. “He had a tough at-bat and Kossina came out on the winning end of that, but I liked Isaiah in that spot no matter what.”
Gaul tripled and scored on a wild pitch in the first, but the Maroons got four runs in the second. Logan Betz had an RBI double, Kossina had an RBI single and a Lancers’ throwing error also contributed to the rally.
Millas’ RBI single in the third made it 4-2 before East tied it in the fifth.
The Lancers used a double-steal with runners at first and third and King ended up scoring on the play after Izaiah Hitt left early trying to distract Vallandingham and the Maroons.
West came right back to grab a 5-4 lead on an RBI single by Wyatt Parker, but Gaul scored his third run of the game to tie it when Millas singled to left.
Both teams have some pitching decisions depending on long the game progresses on Friday.
East has already used five pitchers, with Evan Lawrence coming on to pitch the final 3/2 innings and striking out seven. Cody Freppon, Ben Cruikshank, Jeff Caringer, Michael Lassman also pitched for the Lancers.
“We’re confident in every single one of them and Evan answered the bell,” Wiggs said. “When they had the (potential) winning run at first with Kossina up and het got him to hit into a double-play (in the eighth), that was a big at-bat there. We’ve got a few guys (left), I don’t know what we’re going to do tomorrow.
Vallandingham started for West and Kossina pitched the eighth and ninth innings.
“With two innings there I know (Kossina) was running it up there giving us everything he had,” Baltz said when asked if the Southwestern Illinois College recruit would resume pitching Friday. “We’ll reassess that tomorrow, or here in a few minutes.”
Four Belleville West errors contributed to some of the Lancers’ scoring opportunities.
“We got out of a lot of situations, our pitchers bailed our defense out,” Baltz said. “Hopefully tomorrow’s a different story. Hopefully those guys come ready to go and we come out and get a win. But we certainly didn’t play our best game today, I think everybody in the park can see that.”