SAUGET - Collin Salter and the rest of his Edwardsville High School teammates didn't get the chance to get on the field in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but on Monday night, he had the chance to shine brightly.

Salter gave up one run on two hits while walking three and striking out 12 as the Tigers defeated Granite City 5-1 in the second game of the eight-team, four-game Sandlot Series at GCS Ballpark, the home of the Frontier League's Gateway Grizzlies.

The series was designed to give Metro-East schools a chance to play after the season was canceled by the Illinois High School Association because of the pandemic. A good crowd turned out to support the two teams in a well-played game on a beautiful night for baseball. Both teams were very happy to be back on the field as well.

"Yeah, it was fun," said Edwardsville coach Billy Herman, who coached the Tigers while Chris Fiala served as head coach for the Warriors. "It was fun to be back. It's been three years since I last coached here at Edwardsville, so it was nice to be considered, and nice to get back into the swing of it and see the kids play."

Like everyone else, Herman felt the players' disappointment and frustration about the season being canceled, and also the elation when they learned they would have the chance to play together again.

"Well, you know, you can't really imagine what it would be like for the kids," Herman said, "because I'm sure a lot of them really, really enjoy playing baseball, and love it. Obviously, they wouldn't be out here if they don't. Just knowing they couldn't be out on the field doing something they love, especially those seniors. Their last year in high school, and I'm sure it was devastating."

But once the players stepped onto the field, it was fun for everyone just being back.

"Yeah, you could tell that the kids were having fun," Herman said. "The guys put some good swings onto the ball, our pitching was really great, they took advantage of having this opportunity, and being able to shine under the lights in front of all these fans for the first time in a long time."

In the case of the Tigers, the chance for the seniors to line up for the school one final time meant much to them and the Edwardsville baseball tradition.

"Well, Edwardsville Tigers baseball has had a rich tradition," Herman said, "with it being a very successful program, and growing up in the community, it seems like all the kids want to be Edwardsville baseball players, and finally getting a chance to be a senior and playing for Edwardsville was, I'm sure, the highlight of a lot of these guys' springs. And unfortunately, it got cut short. But, it's how it just goes sometimes."

And the fact that the season was canceled through no one's fault made it that much more difficult as well.

"Right, nobody could have predicted it," Herman said, "nobody could have done anything to prevent anything here, so, you know, just kind of roll with the punches. You get to see it in the kids' faces whenever they're out there. They're ready to be back out there playing baseball, and doing something they love."

For the players who will go on to college, the future does look bright for everyone.

"Yeah, we'll see," Herman said. "This was actually a special group for me to coach, because my last year coaching was with this group who are now seniors. So it was kind of a special night in that way for me."

Both starting pitchers - Salter and Granite's Jonas Barnes - were each dealing in the first three innings. The Tigers had opportunities to get on the board in the first three innings, having runners on first and second in the first and third innings, and getting a runner to third base in the second. But Barnes got strikeouts in the first and third to end the threat, and also retired the side in order in the second after a leadoff double by Evan Funkhouser.

Meanwhile, Salter had his array of pitches working as well, facing one over the minimum, walking only one and fanning seven in the first three innings, striking out the side in the third as both teams were scoreless through three.

The Tigers got out in front in the fourth, scoring twice without benefit of a hit. Funkhouser led off with a walk but was forced at second on a grounder to second by Jacob Kitchen. Salter walked, and Weston Slemmer was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Hayden Moore hit into a force play at second, scoring Kitchen, then Salter and Moore perfectly executed a double steal, with Salter stealing home to make the score 2-0 for Edwardsville. Logan Cromer grounded to third to end the inning.

The Warriors had a chance in the home half of the fourth when Barnes drew a walk to start things off, then Mason Roehr singled sharply to left for the first Granite hit. Salter again struck out the side to keep the lead at 2-0. Freddy Edwards came in to pitch for the Warriors in the fifth, and got out of a jam with a strikeout to keep the score at 2-0, and in the sixth, the Warriors got to Salter, as Brendan McKechan doubled over the left fielder's head to start,and one out later Roehr drew a walk. Funkhouser came into pitch, and gave up a walk to Bennett Smallie to load the bases, and it set up what turned out to be the key play of the game. Mason McMurray hit a sharp grounder down the left-field line that seemed destined for extra bases and a possible Warrior lead, but Drake Westcott came up with a brilliant barehanded grab of the grounder to get McMurray, but McKechan scored to make it 2-1. Edwards grounded back to the box to end the inning.

Buoyed by Westcott's game-saving play, the Tigers took back a two-run lead in the seventh. Cromer singled deep in the hole to short, then went to second when the shortstop's throw got away for an error. Cromer went to third on a ground out, then scored on a wild pitch to give Edwardsville a 3-1 lead. The Tigers upped the lead to 5-1 in the eighth, starting when Grant Coffey was hit by a pitch, going to third one out later on a ground-rule double. Coffey scored on an RBI single, and the Tigers got their fifth run on a second well-executed double steal. Ryan Kulasekara slammed the door on the Warriors in the eighth and ninth to preserve the Edwardsville 5-1 win.

The important thing was getting both the Tigers and Warriors back onto the field for the first time in just over a year in front of very appreciative fans, which made the night both successful and memorable indeed.

"You can't beat a great night at the ballpark under the lights," Herman said.

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Dan Brannan also contributed to this story

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