BELLEVILLE — Two days after experiencing a seventh-inning meltdown against Alton, the O'Fallon Panthers were again faced with trying to fend off a last-inning rally by their opponent.
This time, the Panthers held it together for a 4-2 win over the Belleville West Maroons on Thursday in a Southwestern Conference game.
"They stayed strong as a team at the very end, and they got out of that inning," O'Fallon coach Kate Walsh said. "As a team, they pulled it together. They looked good offensively and defensively."
The Panthers imploded to give up four runs on one hit and four infield errors in the bottom of the seventh in a 6-5 loss to Alton on Tuesday.
They were in an eerily similar situation Thursday as the Maroons had runners at second and third with one out in the top of the seventh, but freshman pitcher Addison Barnouski got a grounder to the third baseman and grounder to the shortstop to preserve the win.
"I'm really proud of everyone on the team because they kept their heads up and worked even harder to get everything done," said senior Taylor Bowlby, who went 3-for-3 with a homer for the Panthers. "We've worked hard on mental toughness all year, and it is really starting to show now."
The win keeps the Panthers (20-7, 7-3) in the race for the SWC title and avenged a 7-1 loss to the Maroons (10-9, 4-6) earlier this season.
Barnouski scattered six hits, while striking out two and walking two.
"Addie Barnouski has been coming through in a big way," Walsh said. "For a freshman to pitch against that caliber of team, I'm extremely proud of her."
The first four hitters in the Panthers' lineup collected hits off West pitcher Rebecca Touchette during a three-run, first-inning rally.
Touchette gave up one run and six hits the rest of the game.
"She probably wasn't real warmed up," Yagge said. "We had her pitching for 20-25 minutes, which is her normal warm up, but it also may have been a little bit of nerves. Playing O'Fallon in a big game. She just overthrew a couple of pitches. Instead of keeping it down knee-high, she put a little extra juice on it, and it got up a little bit. Other than one inning, it was a well-played ballgame by both teams."
Sam Ralphs led off the first inning with a double to center field and scored on a single by Sami Stadts.
Bowlby blasted an 0-2 pitch over the center-field fence to put the Panthers ahead 3-0.
Though Bowlby's high drive had plenty of distance, Bowlby wasn't so sure.
"I was worried there for a second that the wind would push it back in, but it didn't," Bowlby said.
The homer was Bowlby's seventh of the season, tying her with Taylor Underwood for the team lead.
Bowlby added singles in both the third and fifth innings.
"Bowlby has been doing that all year, just solid hitting," Walsh said.
The Maroons got two runs in the fifth to cut the Panthers' lead to 3-2.
Hannah Biermann led off with a single, but she was forced out at second base on a grounder back to the pitcher by Nadaley Wilson.
With one out, Alliyah St. John reached base when the second baseman bobbled her slap hit.
Danielle Touchette doubled to center field, driving in two runs.
The Panthers got an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth on consecutive singles by Stadts, Bowlby and Underwood.
Wilson walked with one out and freshman Olivia Young followed with a single to left field. Pinch runner Megan Glaesner advanced to third and Young took second on the throw.
But, that's where the two runners were stranded.
"We applied some pressure," Yagge said. "We came close. We're coming around. We might be something to reckon with in the regional."
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.