One team was coming off its sixth setback in seven games, the latter being a 10-run spanking Saturday at East Alton-Wood River.
The other team entered the game riding a seven-game unbeaten streak, outscoring its opponents 72-18 during that span.
Those facts considered, the momentum was clearly in South Central’s favor Monday as it hosted Vandalia.
But you would have never guessed it by what transpired at Lions Field, as Vandalia pulled off a 13-6 upset of the Cougars.
VCHS coach Luke Hohlt’s vision of what his team could be finally materialized, as an aggressive, heads-up approach produced huge dividends.
‘The beginning of this season’s been kinda rough for us,’ said Hohlt of his 4-6 team. ‘We know we are capable of playing good baseball. Today, we did exactly what we wanted.’
In turn, Cougars coach Curt Jones endured a defensive misadventure he never could have envisioned, as his normally fundamentally sound team committed six errors and a number of other mental mistakes that didn’t show up in the box score.
‘Defense is supposed to be one of our strong points, but we certainly didn’t show it tonight,’ Jones said. ‘Man, you’ve got to make plays. We just didn’t do that.’
The Vandals exploited South Central’s defensive struggles with an extremely aggressive approach on the basepaths, helping them jump out to a 7-0 lead.
Hohlt gave Ryan Thiele and Mitch Whightsil the green light to steal third base in the third inning, and the strategy resulted in runs both times due to South Central throwing errors. The Vandals scored another run on a throwing error on a steal attempt in the fifth.
‘They made some throwing errors, they made some mistakes in the field, and we took advantage of it,’ Hohlt said. ‘I’ve got to hand it to our runners for being very aggressive out there. We made their mistakes worse.’
And when the Vandals weren’t wreaking havoc on the basepaths, they were coming up with clutch two-out hits.
The trend started in the second inning when Andy Hosick gave Vandalia a 1-0 lead with a run-scoring bloop single to center. Clint Sigrist followed suit with an RBI single to cap a three-run third, and Whightsil blooped a two-out single into right in the fourth to plate two and give VCHS a commanding 6-0 lead.
Vandals starter Brenden Wasmuth seemed to be cruising to victory up to that point, as he escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam unscathed in the second and entered the fifth inning working on a shutout against the potent Cougars.
But Hohlt felt that it was just a matter of time before South Central’s bats awoke.
‘I knew they were a very good hitting ballclub,’ Hohlt said. ‘I knew they had just scored 20 runs the other day. I knew they could hit the ball.’
Hohlt’s inclination proved to be justified, as the Cougars finally got to Wasmuth in the fifth with a three-run rally that included sacrifice flies by Heath Sigrist and Shea Burton.
Vandalia got one of those runs back with a heads-up play in the sixth, as Dallas Gray surprised the Cougars by tagging up from third on a popup deep on the infield, sneaking into score and give Vandalia an 8-3 lead.
That insurance tally helped Vandalia maintain a two-run lead after a tumultuous bottom of the sixth in which South Central scored three runs and threatened for more before Gray came into the game with two outs and struck out Will Crain with runners on first and second.
The Vandals countered with a knockout blow, plating five runs in the top of the seventh.
Gray had an RBI single during the rally, but South Central miscues fueled the fire more than anything, as the Cougars committed three errors.
The performance absolutely baffled Jones, considering his team’s play in its prior seven games.
‘We’ve had some pretty bad (performances) so far, but recently we’ve been playing pretty danged good,’ Jones said. ‘I was thinking maybe we had arrived a little bit as far as consistency. But tonight it wasn’t happening.’
The Cougars’ defensive meltdown extended into Tuesday, as they committed 10 errors in a loss to Centralia.
Hohlt hopes his team’s aggressive play will carry over into Wednesday’s game against Greenville at GCS Stadium in Sauget – and the rest of the season.
‘That’s most aggressive we’ve played, and I liked it,’ Hohlt said. ‘We’re going to look to play a lot more baseball like that. I’m going to remind the guys of this game.
‘We can’t just be content with this win. We have to let this propel us to playing good baseball every day.’
Vandalia 013 211 5 – 13 11 1
S. Central 000 033 0 – 6 5 6
WP – Wasmuth (5IP, 3H, 4R, 3K, 6BB). LP – King (3 1/3 IP, 4H, 6R, 4K, 5BB). Top hitters – Vandalia: Thiele 1-3 (SB), Wasmuth 1-3, Gray 1-4 (BI), Whightsil 2-4 (2BI, SB), Herker 2-3, Sigrist 1-4 (BI), Hosick 1-3 (3 BI), Elam 2-4 (SB); South Central: Grapperhaus 2-3 (2B, BI), Robb 1-1 (BI). Record – Vandalia is 4-6.
Saturday’s First Game
Vandalia 3, EA-Wood River 0
Gray had a career day on the mound, striking out 14 Oilers on his way to a four-hit shutout, and he wasn’t too shabby at the plate, either.
Gray helped his own cause by launching his second homer of the spring, tripling and driving in two runs, as the senior nearly single-handily stopped the Vandals’ five-game losing skid.
‘He pretty much did everything we need him to do,’ Hohlt said. ‘He was a force on the mound and a force at the plate.’
Ryan Thiele and Mitch Johnson added a hit apiece in three at-bats.
At Wood River
Vandalia 200 001 0 – 3 4 2
EAWR 000 000 0 – 0 4 1
WP – Gray (2-1, 7IP, 0R, 4H, 14K, 2BB). LP – Roberson (7IP, 3ER, 4H, 10K, 0BB). Vandalia top hitters – Gray 2-3 (2R, 3B, HR, 2BI), Thiele 1-3, Johnson 1-3.
Saturday’s Second Game
EA-Wood River 11,
Gray hit his second homer of the day – a solo shot in the first inning – but it was all downhill for the Vandals after that, as the host Oilers salvaged a doubleheader split.
Vandalia 100 00 – 1 2 2
EA-WR 206 03 – 11 13 0
WP – Scott (5IP, 1ER, 2H, 5K, 1BB, 3HBP). LP – Whightsil (5IP, 11R, 7ER, 13H, 2K, 4BB). Vandalia top hitters – Gray 1-2 (HR, BI), Whightsil 1-2.