EFFINGHAM – As the lights burned brighter in a tight City Series game, morale soared for Effingham’s Brent Beals.
Using a reliable fastball that not only had heat, but location as well, Beals struck out 11 St. Anthony batters. As quickly as he bore down on the Bulldogs’ lineup, he aggressively attacked at the plate for a 3-for-4, 2-RBI night.
The 3-1 win for Effingham came in the second game of the City Series against St. Anthony. It’s a true three-game series that makes good use of the lights with the 7 p.m. start.
“One of my better games this year, came out with confidence,” Beals said. “One of the biggest games of the year and we all look forward to it.”
After a tough April, Beals has been on point in his last two starts. He took down Taylorville earlier this month before going the full seven innings Wednesday, allowing just four hits and one run.
“Brent Beals, he gets on the mound, he turns into a stud,” St. Anthony coach Kenny Koenig said. “He had a good fastball tonight with a good curveball, located well. You know, it’s one of those things -- it looked like we were on them, and then we just missed.”
That’s a familiar feeling for those facing Effingham’s (21-2) pitching. Between Beals, Zach Lee and Lane Koenig, there are three solid starters the Hearts have relied upon for conference play. Add in Mason Hull, Colby Utz and Brett Koester, and Effingham has a deep pitching staff to draw upon this year.
It was Beals’ turn on Wednesday, and the Millikin commit juggled a number of pitches, but it was the fastball that hurt the most, as well as the location.
“My fastball was definitely what was working for me tonight,” Beals said. “Curveball was there some, changeup was there some, but it was also not there at times. Worked my fastball a lot, and luckily it worked out for me.”
When St. Anthony did turn on a couple of hits, Beals either came back for the strikeout or relied on those behind him.
“Our boys did a good job getting to balls in the field,” Effingham coach Chris Fleener said. “I thought we tracked down the fly balls, didn’t let them get any gap shots tonight. Part of that was Brent doing a great job on the mound.
“But also, Jordan McCabe and Nick Bishop, they both do outstanding jobs. It’s nice to have good catchers behind the pitchers.”
As close as the two games have been between St. Anthony and Effingham -- Tuesday’s game was 4-3 -- Koenig was mostly upbeat about the tough losses.
“They’re not doing it with just one guy,” Koenig said. “Like I said, we’re not going to run into a pitching staff like this in 1A. It’s going to be tough -- if we find a pitching staff like this in 1A, that’s a good pitching staff.”
St. Anthony found its own solid performance from Bryar Jansen. The senior only allowed one hit through three innings before Effingham’s bats broke through for a run in the fourth and two in the sixth. Jansen induced 11 groundouts and worked ahead most of the night.
“He gets into the game in a big moment, he’s a bulldog,” Koenig said. “He tried to be competitive 0-2, I think he was maybe a little too competitive 0-2.
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“But I would much rather see him do that 0-2 instead of not throw it anywhere close.”
There are a number of high school events that carry a different vibe from the rest. The City Series is definitely one of them.
Between the packed crowd at Evergreen Hollow Park, a well-played game and the awesome atmosphere of a night-time baseball game, there’s a special quality to the event.
“It gives you the real feel of a baseball series,” Fleener said. “When you get good crowds and good teams out here, it’s a great atmosphere for baseball all around. The Effingham people and St. Anthony people really love their baseball.
“It’s how the game’s meant to be played and having a crowd out here, it’s a fun night at the ballpark.”
“Bragging rights,” Beals added. “You don’t want them beating you and talking about it. This is something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life.”
The series finale is on Friday.
St. Anthony flashed the leather multiple times.
Jacob Guy kicked it off by reining in a shot from Lane Koenig in the first. There were cheers from both sides -- St. Anthony’s side for Guy catching it and Effingham’s side in thinking it was a sure hit.
Adam Levitt followed that up in the third by charging in from third for a pop-up. He hung on with a slide that carried into an also pursuing Jansen.
Doing it all
Beals’ play with the bat has been just as valuable as on the mound. He raised his batting average to .441 with two singles and a double.
The aggressiveness from the mound carries over -- he only needed five pitches in those first three at-bats to collect all three hits.