By BRADEN LAYER
---- — St. Anthony took a step in the right direction last spring, winning their first game in the three-game City Series against rival Effingham since 2005. Yet the Bulldogs came up short in the other two battles against the Hearts, falling to Effingham in a close back-and-forth affair.The Bulldogs are now up in Class 2A, and St. Anthony is ready to tangle with the Class 3A Hearts once again when the City Series gets underway on Wednesday at Effingham. The two schools are vastly different when it comes to size and enrollment, but separated by only two miles, Bulldogs coach Kenny Miller said there's still plenty of passion."These kids played together every summer since they were in little league, Khoury League, even younger than that," he said. "Besides going into the postseason, T-Town and the City Series, those are the big games."In order to flip the switch on the recent string of narrow defeats, St. Anthony will toss a number of capable starters on the mound. Ben Hecht will start one game, and give the Bulldogs a solid chance at a W.
Hecht is the reigning Class 1A Player of the Year, and recently threw a 17-strikeout no-hitter against Neoga on May 1. "I would like to think we could win any game that Ben goes out and pitches," Miller said. "Alex (Hoelscher) and Zach Gardewine will probably throw the other two games."Gardewine has compiled an impressive starting record of 22-5 midway through his sophomore year, and Hoelscher has looked very solid in his limited action on the mound thus far. "I feel I've got three pretty good pitchers," Miller said. "Our kids will be ready to play."With Effingham's enrollment more than quadruple that of St. Anthony, Miller said he worries a little bit about depth. That, and the pitching the Hearts face day in and day out in the tough Apollo Conference."The advantage that Effingham has is that they play a really, really good schedule," Miller said. "Those Apollo games really prepare them for good pitching."Miller's squad enters the city series at 16-7, while the Hearts currently stand at 9-9. All prior records and stats are ignored, however, when these two finally meet Wednesday night on the diamond.
"Obviously both teams want to win," Effingham coach Chris Fleener said. "Both teams always try to be competitive. It goes back to taking it one game at a time."
St. Anthony's recent string of success, including its improvement on the mound, has Miller hopeful that his squad will get the job done."We've struggled at times with defense, but I think we're okay now," he said. "I think we've figured it out. The kids have really worked on it, I'm proud of them."Last Monday, Miller called his players in for one-on-one meetings, where they hashed out any problems and steered the ship back in the right direction. "Since then, we've played a lot better," he said. "A lot more emotion, a lot more passion."St. Anthony will need this passion against Effingham's Devin Mayfield, as well as Dirk and Drew Levitt. The three, in addition to Braydon Bone and Preston Walker, could all make appearances on the mound for the Hearts.
"We've got about four or five pitchers," Fleener said. "Our pitchers are capable of throwing strikes, a lot of them can be pretty effective."In any case, Miller's squad will need to come up with some timely hitting to help energize the St. Anthony crowd, one that promises to be a rather large one."We're talking 400 to 500 people out there every night," Miller said. "The student section is out there BBQ'ing. The games are fun, it is a rivalry, just a little bit more friendly."
Miller's City Series counterpart agreed that the atmosphere is unmatched.
"You don't see that at a whole lot of high school games," Fleener said. "Not just parents and families, but kids from other schools. T-town boys come over and watch sometimes, some Beecher City kids. It's just a neat atmosphere."
While both teams will use the game as a measuring stick as they approach postseason play, St. Anthony would love to push that friendship aside, as least momentarily, to get back on the winning side of the City Series.
Braden Layer can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 123, or at firstname.lastname@example.org