It looked like a home run off of the bat, but Collin Nestleroad tracked the ball’s path anyway.
And it was a good thing, because his over-the-shoulder catch near the warning track in the top of the seventh inning last Wednesday proved to be a game-saver.
Johnnie Clift had a pair of doubles and scored twice and three pitchers combined for a four-hitter before Nestleroad’s catch during a 6-5 Jr. Legion win against Granite City.
“When (Granite City’s player) tagged it, I thought it was gone,” said coach TK Kinkead. “We’ve played with wooden bats all year, so you don’t see anything tagged that hard. We played with the metal bats tonight, and when it came off of the bat I thought, ‘Oh man.’
“Collin got a beat on it and made a great play,” he said. “It’s the play of the year so far.”
The stellar defense didn’t stop there, however, as the very next batter hit a sharp liner to third base, where Clift ranged to his right to field it, and made a long throw to first base to record the second out of the inning.
Those plays came after the leadoff batter singled with Vandalia clinging to a 6-5 lead. The runner would steal second and advance to third on Clift’s play, but the final batter of the game hit a weak popup toward third.
Granite City tied the game at five in the top of the fifth inning, but Clift led off the bottom of the frame with a double. Jake Bowen moved him to third on a grounder to second, and Seth Allen drove him home on a grounder to the shortstop.
Kinkead said that coming out on top in a close game is something his team needed to do and needs to continue doing.
“This is the first time they have dealt with adversity the way they should,” he said. “There’s going to be games where we go back and forth.”
Some of that comes from Vandalia lacking a true ace pitcher, but if the team’s offensive weapons can back up strong pitching performances when they come, that is when the wins should come, too.
Tristan Wesselman picked up the win, pitching two innings of relief, and Matt Beck recorded a two-inning save, allowing just one hit.
Quinn Wadkins got the start, but was pulled after three innings, despite allowing just one earned run and having struck out five.
“I felt like he was starting to get behind a lot of guys, so instead of giving them a chance to go back through the lineup, I thought we would put Tristan in,” Kinkead said.
Wadkins walked the first batter of the game, but Granite City’s offense couldn’t get him past third base, and Post 95 used that momentum to get an early lead.
Eric Gurtner and Clift had back-to-back two-out doubles in the bottom of the first, and Jake Bowen added an RBI single to give Vandalia a 2-0 lead.
“That was huge,” Kinkead said. “Walks have killed us, so to be able to shut the door (and get some runs) was big for these guys.”
Granite City tied the game with a pair of runs in the second, but Vandalia answered back again when Nestleroad and Wadkins reached in the third. Gurtner and Clift each drove home a run in the inning.
Two more runs crossed for Granite City in the fourth to tie the game at four, but Wesselman had an RBI single in the bottom of the inning to move Vandalia back ahead.
Back-to-back singles in the top of the fifth tied the game once again.
Wednesday, June 20
Granite City 5
WP: Wesselman; 2 IP, 0 K, 3 R, 2 ER, 2 H, 2 BB
SV: Beck; 2 IP, 2 K, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB
Post 95: Clift, 2-for-3, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Gurtner, 1-for-3, 2B, RBI, run; Bowen, 2-for-3, RBI, SB; Wesselman, 1-for-1, RBI; Wadkins, 1-for-2, run, SB; Matt Beck, 1-for-2, run, 2 SB, BB; Seth Allen, 1-for-3, SB; Nestleroad, run.
A day after a win, Post 95 was unable to start a winning streak, falling to Newton, 11-4, in a nine-inning game last Thursday.
“They scored three runs right off the bat, and we could have done more damage in the first inning,” said coach TK Kinkead. “We have to answer right back. Our pitchers did a good job, but (Newton) found holes, so we had to keep answering back.”
Vandalia held a 2-0 lead after the first, getting a leadoff double from Zach Schaal, who scored on an error in Johnnie Clift’s at-bat, and an RBI single from Jake Bowen, who had a 3-for-4 day at the plate.
Bowen was stranded at second after the next two batters struck out. In total, Post 95 struck out 10 times against Newton’s Caleb Chestnut, who threw a complete game.
“He did a nice job of getting ahead,” Kinkead said. “He threw harder than most of the guys we see, but that’s not an excuse.”
Newton had five straight hits to open the second inning and score three runs, and then held Vandalia to three hits and five base runners from the second through seventh innings.
Matt Beck hit a two-run double in the eighth, but that came after a five-run frame from Newton that put Jasper Post ahead, 11-2.
Post 95 played county rival South Central in a doubleheader on Friday and at Effingham on Sunday, but results of those games were not available by press time.
The team is back in action on Thursday for a nine-inning home game against Roxana and on Friday for a doubleheader against Mattoon.
On Sunday, Vandalia will play Jerseyville and Bluford in a round-robin, and will travel to play the St. Louis Pirates next Tuesday.
Thursday, June 21
LP: Carson Smith; 5 IP, 5 K, 5 ER, 10 H, 1 BB, 1 HBP
Post 95: Bowen, 3-for-4, RBI, run, SB; Beck, 1-for-1, 2B, 2 RBI, 2 BB; Clift, 1-for-4, run, SB; Schaal, 1-for-4, 2B, run; Smith, 1-for-3, 2B; Collin Nestleroad, run, BB; Derek Childress, BB.