Top-10 Stories of 2019: No. 2 Funkhouser earns 700th win in Edwardsville's 4A triumph


By Andy Sroka
Staff Writer, Associate Scout

In 20 seasons at the helm of one of the state’s best baseball programs, Tim Funkhouser has helped steer the Edwardsville Tigers to 14 regional titles, nine sectional championships, and six trips to state. He was turning into one of the more decorated active coaches in the state – but he was waiting to fill the lone empty space in his otherwise loaded trophy case: a state championship.

The Tigers were one of the strongest programs on paper headed into the spring of 2019 and and, in Joliet, they pushed themselves across the finish line first in a dramatic title game against a scrappy and young St. Charles North squad.

For Coach Funkhouser, not only was the 4A title at stake, but he could also cross an individual threshold with a win in the championship game, too. If the Tigers lifted the state title at the end of a long day in Joliet, it also meant that Funkhouser became the 21st coach in the state’s history to win a 700th career game. While that honor might not have mattered personally to Funkhouser, it just goes to show how his seat at the front of the dugout has become one of the winningest of all-time.

We were on site to witness a hotly contested 4A title game that required extra innings to decide. Check out game story written from the press box of the Edwardsville win back in June.

EDWARDSVILLE WINS DRAMATIC 4A TITLE GAME OVER ST. CHARLES NORTH IN EXTRAS

JOLIET, Ill. – Edwardsville head coach Tim Funkhouser, the man who’s sat at the head of the dugout for the past 21 seasons, earns his first-ever title in a blockbuster ending that was storybook for the Tigers. Funkhouser’s career win No. 700 is also the one that allows him to lift his first state title, and Edwardsville’s first since the year before he took over the position, back in 1998. Even more, Funkhouser won a Tigers title as a player, under his father and head coach, and was able to earn his first title as a head coach with his own son in the dugout this evening.

The game required extra innings, after a relentless St. Charles North team clawed their way back even in the bottom of the seventh, requiring a late push over Edwardsville starter Matthew Boyer, who was excellent throughout.

For the North Stars, the formula to victory couldn’t have been more perfect. The game played it virtually exactly how they would have drawn it up. They took it to the Tigers with a three-headed attack from the mound, as planned, and limited a potent Edwardsville offense to just three hits total.

After a quiet first frame, Boyer was forced to face the game’s first real jam in the bottom of the second. A light rain slickened the field and costed the Tigers a couple of errors, putting a pair on base with one down. But Boyer, as he would all game, buckled down and punched out the next two batters to shut the threat down.

In the fourth, a Drake Westcott walk, followed by a Joe Copeland single, sparked a rally. Funkhouser utilized a double steal in this spot, and it caused a little chaos for a typically even-keeled and fundamental North Stars defense. An errant throw into left on the play scored Westcott and wild pitch plated Copeland to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead, on just one hit.

St. Charles North responded in the fifth after Kyler Brown lined a single into shallow left field and Mike Gattuso battled for a walk to put the tying run on with one out. Last night’s hero, senior Egon Hein, roped a single to the outfield that scored his team’s first run. Boyer did well to keep the score there, 2-1, but it didn’t feel like it was going to be North’s last chance, either.

The North Stars were set down in order in the sixth and it gave Funkhouser the confidence to send his starter back out there for the seventh. Boyer walked Alex Najera on four pitches and another Brown single ignited the North dugout and supporting fans, forcing Funkhouser to call on one of his most reliable arms, Collin Salter, to finish the rest. With a little adrenaline behind him, Salter hit the first batter he faced to load the bases with nobody out, setting Hein up for even more heroics.

Hein flipped a ball softly up the middle, allowing for Edwardsville to turn two rather routinely, but North didn’t care. The game was tied, finally. Salter made sure the Tigers were going to get another chance to bat in the top of the eighth earning a strikeout to end the frame, and the 4A final was directed to extras.

By this time, North was relying on their high-leverage ace Nick DeMarco to get them back to the plate. In the top of the eighth, with one down, pinch-hitter Jacob Kitchen popped a high fly ball that landed directly in the middle of the converging center fielder, right fielder, and second baseman. It was a ball that North will say should have been caught, and it sparked the rally that allowed the Tigers to pull ahead for good.

A clutch DeMarco strikeout to lead-off man Hayden Moore made it feel like DeMarco was going to bail his team out trouble, but senior Blake Burris laid down a perfect bunt halfway up the third base line. The throw to first collided with Burris and sent pinch-runner Aaron Young scrambling home. The play at the plate was as close as could be, and the umpire saw Young’s hand scrape the plate before he was tagged, granting Edwardsville the 3-2 lead.

Salter needed three more outs to clinch the win, and North grinded in their at-bats, but were still set down in order, 1-2-3, to hand Funkhouser and the Edwardsville program the 4A championship.

For North, the loss is still a step closer to their program’s first-ever state title – their second-place finish is the best in its history. With a sturdy group of sophomores in place, and an experienced coaching staff at the helm, the North Stars should be right back in the mix in 2020.

The Tigers and their tremendous class of 2019, however, get to celebrate the biggest win of Illinois’ high school season – wrapping up their prep careers in the most satisfying way possible.


TOP-10 STORIES OF 2019