TEUTOPOLIS – A sour memory gnawed at Teutopolis' Lane Belleville every time he stepped on the bump.
He could thank his teammates for that.
It was a fall game against Louisville North Clay.
His first inning boded well on the mound, but his command fizzled. It turned out to be the only loss for the Shoes that autumn.
It became kind of a running joke among his teammates and a source of constant motivation for Belleville throughout the spring.
“They reminded me of it a lot,” Belleville said. “They would make jokes about it because they knew it would just get under my skin. It helped me more and made sure I didn't lose again.
“It never made me mad. I knew it was all in good humor.”
Belleville's teammates knew exactly what buttons to push.
“That would really fire him up,” junior catcher Cody Jansen said. “He's a really emotional guy. The little things will set him off. Other teams doing stuff and shouting at him, you might think you're getting in his head but I think that's just making him a better pitcher because if he gets angry, he's just going to go out there and come right at you on the mound.”
Belleville forged an imposing presence with his versatility and powered Teutopolis (31-6) to its third Class 2A state title for H&R Area Baseball Player of the Year. He's the program's fifth player to win the award since 2010.
“He bore a lot of the pressure,” Teutopolis coach Justin Fleener said. “He took it all in stride and he's really a likeable young man. He was an ideal team player like a lot of the guys are. He did what seniors need to be doing to lead a team.”
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior especially wreaked havoc in the postseason.
It all came to a head starting with Nashville in the Sauget Super-sectional.
He had to overcome a dreadful first inning where a 3-run homer prodded Fleener to visit the mound.
“In the past few years, we've given up some runs in the first inning in a super-sectional,” Fleener said. “I just went out and said, 'Lane, it's no different than we've done the past two years. Hey, hold them from here and give us a shot.' I think he locked in a little bit after that.”
He sure did.
Belleville torched Nashville's lineup with 10 strikeouts and the Shoes rallied 4-3 for their 11th state appearance.
“I knew after that hit they were going to be fired up,” Belleville said of Nashville. “But I knew I could get them out. I just had to keep calm and throw what I wanted to throw.”
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He showed he's just as talented on offense in the next round. He hammered out four hits and smashed a 2-run homer over the left field fence to seal an 11-0 state semifinal victory over Orion in five short innings.
“That was pretty crazy,” Belleville said. “I don't know how else to put it. I was lucky and I was fortunate enough to have that home run.”
It encapsulated his entire season.
He boasted a .438 batting average with five home runs and 42 RBIs while managing a 7-0 record and 1.57 ERA as a pitcher. It's hard to say which was better.
“In my opinion, I'd say I'm better as a hitter,” Belleville said. “But some people argue that I'm more of a pitcher.”
Belleville had always been consistent on offense. That's what vaulted him into the starting lineup toward the end of last season at DH.
His pitching took a little more time to come around. Fleener said it was just a matter of confidence.
“We didn't make a whole lot of changes,” Fleener said of Belleville's pitching technique. “I just wanted him a little bit more composed out there on the mound and having a little more confidence.”
Jansen was a key ingredient.
Belleville learned to trust his savvy catcher and let him call most of the pitches. That bond became unbreakable.
“It's great to have a good relationship with your catcher,” Belleville said. “Before the games, we would go over their hitters and see who could all hit. It was great to have a catcher like him.
“Usually, I always just said yes and trusted what he wants.”
It wasn't a relationship that developed overnight, but by mid-season Belleville emerged alongside Eric Kremer, who also went undefeated at 8-0, at the top of the rotation.
His curveball, in particular, had more bite.
“When his hook was on, it was virtually unhittable,” Jansen said. “I can't remember when his curveball was working and anyone ever got a hit on it because it had so much sharp movement on it. It had the movement and the speed. That's a deadly combo when you're in high school.”
Belleville turned more energy toward pitching after committing to Division II Maryville University in St. Louis during the summer. He polished his technique during the fall with Fleener and then with his dad, Chet, in the garage where he rigged up a mat to throw up against during the winter.
Belleville, who is now playing his third year with the traveling Decatur Commodores, expects that's going to be his primary role in college.
“It was quite an experience,” Jansen said of Belleville. “He changed his game from last year to this year. He settled down and really threw a lot more strikes than last year. I think he really led the team by example.”