Giving O’Fallon Panthers ace Bradley Harrison a 4-0 lead in the second inning is never a recipe for success.
Contributing to the problem by committing four errors and surrendering 12 hits creates even more of an uphill climb, as Belleville West discovered the hard way Tuesday in a 10-0, six-inning Southwestern Conference baseball defeat.
Harrison, a senior left-hander headed to Southern Illinois University Carbondale, cruised through the West lineup all day as he won his St. Louis-area leading seventh game against no losses. He allowed only a two-out single to Cal Kossina in the first and struck out seven as the Maroons had only three baserunners.
The win allowed the top-ranked Panthers (17-3 overall, 6-1 in the SWC) to take over first place in the conference. They had been tied for first with fourth-ranked Belleville West (12-5, 5-2), but Harrison and company grabbed sole possession of the lead.
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“He’s a handful on the mound,” O’Fallon senior shortstop Camden Bauer said of Harrison, now 7-0 with a 0.32 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 44 1/3 innings. “He’s our horse, so we’ve got his back. Our defense is really good behind him. He pumps strkes and just competes out there.”
So does Bauer, an Alabama recruit whose offensive resurgence this season included his first career home run on Tuesday. Bauer unloaded on a pitch from West starter Matt Sisk and lasered it over the fence in left leading off the second inning.
“It felt like something special,” said Bauer, who leads the Panthers with a .435 average after going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. “We had good BP (batting practice) today and I felt good coming into the game. I’ve always been a singles guy and I live through the middle, that’s what I work on during practice.
But it’s nice to turn on one and sneak one out every once in a while.”
Did the first career bomb feel good?
“Absolutely,” said Bauer, whose solo homer ignited a four-run second inning that included an RBI single by freshman Josh Gibson and a bases-loaded walk to Jared Dalonzo.
O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said Bauer’s improvement at the plate is a direct result of the hard work he’s put in.
“He’s been outstanding,” Portz said. “From about three-quarters of the way or halfway through 2015, he’s really come into his own as an offensive player. Sometimes I think he gets a really bad rap about his offensive production and you can’t ask for more out of the time that he’s put in and the work he’s put in.
“It’s starting to come together for him and that’s really gratifying, you like to see that. He’s just on a really good run right now.”
On Thursday of last week, Bradley Harrison started his pregame warmup for the Edwardsville game about the time he got out of bed.
“School is definitely tough on a day when you play Edwardsville,” said Harrison, who improved to 6-0 by striking out eight and allowing five hits in six innings in a rare 12-2 blowout win over the top-ranked Edwardsville Tigers. “It seems no matter how much you try you can’t get the game off your mind. You’re ready to go when you get up in the morning. It’s real easy to get up for games like Edwardsville. It’s fun.”
Freshman Josh Gibson had a breakout day at the plate for O’Fallon, going 2-for-2 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Bauer smacked a pair of doubles and scored three times while Dillon Weiss and Cody Crowder each drove in two runs.
“Josh is very mature for a freshman,” Harrison said of Gibson. “Even looking back towards me I think he’s a lot more mature than I was and he can handle this type of game. Usually the difference for a freshman is the game is too fast. Gibson is able to slow the game down and play the game at this speed.
“He looks like a junior or senior out there.”
“I think we’ve been on both ends of the spectrum, but bottom line is their pitcher’s really good and we didn’t play nearly as well as we could,” Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said. “We’ll play better in the future. We’ll keep our head better and do some things on our end. They’ve had a lot of success and we didn’t meet the challenge today.”
The difference for O’Fallon?
“I thought we just came out ready to play,” Harrison said. “All nine players and everybody on the bench, everybody was ready to play today. We looked very good and I think this is the potential that we’ve had all season. We finally tapped into that today.”