On Tuesday afternoon, the O’Fallon baseball Panthers returned to the familiar confines of Blazier Field after spending most of their spring break battling state champions in the Louisville Slugger Classic in Emerson, Ga.
After going 2-2 on their extended road trip, the Panthers made the most of their homecoming, thrashing Belleville East 11-0 for their second straight Southwestern Conference victory. Chris Holba shut down the Lancer line-up, allowing just three hits in his six innings of work. While Holba was mesmerizing the Belleville East batters, the OTHS offense was ripping hits with regularity, scoring three runs in their first two at-bats and serving up the knock out punch in the fifth frame when they plated five more runs.
The O’Fallon hitting rampage started early when the first five Panther batters reached base on five consecutive singles. When the final out was registered, Dillon Weiss, Kyle VanBevern and Bradley Harrison had crossed the plate.
The OTHS batters enjoyed their first inning scoring binge so much that they duplicated the effort in the second. An RBI single by Weiss, who finished the afternoon with a perfect 3-for-3 effort at the plate, and a sacrifice fly by Brad Snyder fueled the OTHS uprising and extended the Panther lead to 6-0.
Holba continued to mow down Lancer batters until the Panthers exploded for five runs in the bottom of the sixth. Holba accentuated his pitching performance with a home run in the five-run sixth.
The Panthers spent the bulk of spring break battling some of the best baseball talent in the South when they traveled to the Louisville Slugger Classic hosted by Lake Pointe Center. The OTHS squad was tested and emerged from the trial by fire with a 2-2 mark for the tournament.
In their opening match up they faced defending Tennessee state champions – McCalllie High School. Holba was masterful in helping the Panthers secure a 5-2 victory, pitching a complete game five-hitter. Holba gave up two runs in the third inning but blanked the Tennessee squad the rest of the way to collect the win. The Panthers tied the score at 2-2 with a single tally in the top of the fourth inning and exploded for three runs in the top of the fifth.
The key hit during the Panther fifth inning rally came off the bat of Jackson Penrod, who doubled, driving home Christian Koechner and VanBevern. Jacob Holl followed Penrod’s shot with a single to plate O’Fallon’s third run of the frame – more than enough run production for Holba to cruise to the Panther victory.
The good vibes created by knocking off a state champion were tempered quickly when the OTHS squad dropped back-to-back games by lopsided scores. Their first loss came at the hands of Harvard-Westlake 6-0. Harvard pitchers Paul Giacomazzi and Gabe Golob combined to shut down the Panther offense, allowing just two hits in seven innings. Conversely, Harvard-Westlake scored in each of the first three frames, building a 4-0 advantage. Grant Robison was tagged with the loss for O’Fallon.
Things did not improve much in O’Fallon’s next outing as Kaneland High pummeled the Panthers 8-3. Kaneland jumped in front with a first inning run off O’Fallon starter Camden Bauer. O’Fallon answered immediately with two runs of their own in the bottom of the frame. Snyder drove home the first run with a sharp single into the outfield and Holba put the Panthers ahead with an RBI double.
A scoreless second inning was followed by a three-run Kaneland uprising. Back to back singles were followed by an RBI double off the bat of Kaneland’s Nick Stratman. Bauer took the loss for the Panthers.
Bauer figured prominently in a positive way in O’Fallon’s fourth and final contest in the Louisville Slugger Classic. Paired against Greenup County High School, coach Jason Portz’s squad rallied from a 2-0 deficit, rewarding an outstanding pitching performance by sophomore Max Schaefer, who pitched into the seventh inning before being relieved by Harrison.
Schaefer walked one and struck out four in his six-inning stint on the hill. He did not get any offensive support until the bottom of the sixth. The O’Fallon rally began when Weiss stroked his third hit of the game into left field. After Nick Crabtree flied out to right field, Harrison kept the inning going with a single to left. Snyder followed Harrison to the plate and came through in the clutch, singling Penrod home for the first O’Fallon run. Holl’s single knotted the score, and Bauer stepped to the plate, producing the game-winner with a sacrifice fly into the right field corner.
Hanging onto a 3-2 lead, Schaefer and Harrison combined to hold off Greenup County after consecutive walks had moved the potential tying run into scoring position.
With valuable lessons learned from their Georgia swing and the momentum created with a SWC win on their return, the Panthers will face several stiff challenges in their upcoming diamond encounters. The OTHS squad are scheduled to host Granite City and Civic Memorial, respectively, on Thursday and Friday of this week before their first SWC face-off against Edwardsville next Tuesday.