Mon-Clair finals set

The Mon-Clair League playoff finals will feature the defending champion Valmeyer Lakers hosting the Belleville Rockies this weekend at Borsch Park.

The best-of-three championship baseball series begins with a seven-inning game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by game two shortly after. 

Game three, if needed, would be played at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. 

The Lakers (20-3) will try to win the league’s trifecta, having won the Valmeyer Midsummer Classic and posting the top overall regular season record.

The team Valmeyer edged in the Midsummer Classic gave the Lakers fits once again on Sunday. 

In the rematch of a July 4 title tilt won by the Lakers, 6-5, the Edwardsville Stags (6-18) put up a fight in more ways than one in this semifinal clash. 

There was plenty of chirping back-and-forth between the Lakers and Stags in the Midsummer Classic, and perhaps that boiled over on Sunday. 

The Lakers led early on Sunday, 2-1, before building up their lead to 5-1 entering the seventh innings. The Stags, managed by former Lakers infielder AJ Skaer and coached by longtime Lakers pitcher Justin Lilly, rallied for three runs in their half of the seventh to make it a 5-4 game.

Fortunately, Valmeyer held on for the narrow victory once again. 

A league official in attendance at the game said Edwardsville players and coaches expressed displeasure with some of the ball and strike calls Sunday in addition to a controversial umpiring call at first base.

When the hotly contested game ended, Valmeyer’s catcher said something to Lilly, prompting both benches to clear and resulting in pushing and shoving between the new rivals.

Mon-Clair League officials will get a report from the umpires officiating Sunday’s game before making any decisions on possible suspensions prior to this weekend’s finals. 

Valmeyer’s Jacob Thompson pitched seven solid innings for the win. Kenny Otero went 3-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in addition to throwing two scoreless innings for the save.

Edwardsville reached Sunday’s semifinal by virtue of a 4-2 upset win Saturday over the Waterloo Buds (13-10). The Stags led 2-1 after four innings, but the Buds tied the game in the bottom of the seventh.

The Stags pulled ahead on a two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning and held on from there. 

Belleville reached the finals thanks to solid efforts from familiar faces in league baseball circles.

On Saturday, the Rockies (11-12) upended the Millstadt Green Machine (12-11) by the score of 8-7. Mike Breyman, 42, smacked two singles and a double, driving in two runs for the victors. 

On Sunday, Belleville bested the St. Louis Spikes, 6-3, thanks to a single and sacrifice fly RBI from Breyman and the pitching excellence of 41-year-old Mark Mueller. 

Mueller, a tough righty who posted the league’s eighth best ERA at 2.12 this summer, pitched eight solid innings for the win. Pat Gaul, another league veteran, doubled and stole a base for the Rockies.

Jevon Boyd picked up saves in both wins for Belleville.

The Spikes advanced to Sunday’s semifinal by virtue of a 6-5 win over the Cape Girardeau Capahas on Saturday.

All of the playoff games this past weekend were played at Borsch Park due to wet field conditions in Millstadt and Belleville. A new tarp was obtained for Borsch Park this season, which also aided in this year’s Midsummer Classic being played despite rain. 

In addition to Otero – who is 5-0 with a 1.01 ERA on the mound and hitting .339 with four homers and 15 RBIs – and Thompson (4-1, 1.63 ERA), another key player for the Lakers is two-way player Trevor Davis. He hit .435 with 19 RBIs and 21 runs this season while posting a 4-0 pitching mark with a 1.83 ERA.

For Belleville, key players in addition to Breyman, Mueller, Boyd and Gaul include pitcher Brayden Knoebel (3-2 with a 1.97 ERA in 39 innings) and slugger Drew Curtis (five home runs, 14 walks).

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Corey Saathoff

Corey is the editor of the Republic-Times. He has worked at the newspaper since 2004, and currently resides in Columbia. He is also the principal singer-songwriter and plays guitar in St. Louis area country-rock band The Trophy Mules.

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