No. 16 O'Fallon slips by No. 17 Edwardsville

By Drake Skleba

 EDWARDSVILLE – In the metro-east area of St. Louis, O' Fallon vs. Edwardsville is one of the great sports rivalries in Illinois. Whether it be a heated Southwest Conference varsity baseball game or a girls freshman badminton contest, the Panthers and the Tigers go all-out to defeat each other.

In one of those heated Southwest Conference varsity baseball affairs on Tuesday, No. 16 O' Fallon slipped past No.17 Edwardsville, 4-3. With the win, O' Fallon (19-6, 8-1) opened up a two-game lead in the SWC over Edwardsville (18-6, 6-3) with five conference contests left.

The host Tigers jumped on O' Fallon's SIU-Edwardsville-bound ace right-hander

Sam Hopkins (WP, CG, 2ER, 6H, 10K, 2BB) for a pair of runs in the Tiger first. Junior first baseman Drew Curtis and starting pitcher senior Alex Reish (3-2) picked up the Tiger RBI.

O' Fallon picked up an unearned run against Reish in the third and then plated a pair of runs in the top of the fourth to take a 3-2 lead. Both Panther runs were scored on bases-loaded walks to Panther senior leadoff-man Logan Reno and sophomore Colin Holton.

“I did my job as a leadoff-man by getting on base three times,” said Reno. “This was a combination of good pitching and defense and some clutch hitting that led to this big win.”

In the top of the fifth, Panther junior Ethan Wild crushed a double that plated a huge insurance run for O'Fallon.

“It's always great to come over here and beat our rivals in their park,” said Wild. “I just did what I had to do today to help us win.”

In the bottom of the fifth, Tiger senior Matt Hueismann went deep for the first time in 2012 to pull Edwardsville within 4-3.

Hopkins retired the Tigers without any further damage in the fifth and then was lights-out in the sixth and seventh. Hopkins fanned three in the sixth with a walk thrown in. Hopkins picked up his ninth and 10th strikeouts to start off the Tiger seventh before picking up the final out of the game on a fly ball to Panther right-fielder Cory Beyersdorfer (2-for-3, 2B).

“We played tough against a team that played great defense against us. We stuck with it and came away with the win,” said Hopkins. “I threw a lot of strikes today and my defense played well behind me. “We are really coming together as a team and have great camaraderie.”

The two Southwestern Conference powers could meet for a third time in the Class 4A Illinois Wesleyan University Sectional in Bloomington, May 30, 31 and June 2.

“Great performance from Sam (Hopkins) after his rough first inning,” said O'Fallon head coach Jason Portz. “He was able to get the ball down after the first inning and really pitched well. I think we had a real good approach at the plate and their defense made a number of fine plays to keep us off the board.”

“This team hasn't hit its ceiling. I think we can get better and do some great things this season.”

Edwardsville is at the Class 4A Granite City Regional and O'Fallon plays at the Class 4A Belleville West Regional. Both clubs should be No. 1 seeds at their respective regionals.

“We didn't make some pitches when we had to,” said Edwardsville head coach Tim Funkhouser. “We didn't make a couple of plays defensively that we must make. We can't make mistakes against a quality team like O'Fallon and expect to win.”

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