On a day when maybe Chris Holba didn’t have that usual ‘pop’ on his fastball, he was still good enough to shut down the bats of the Belleville West Maroons on Tuesday in a Southwestern Conference game.
Displaying near flawless control, Holba pitched a six-hit shutout while Bradley Harrison and Jackson Penrod drove in two runs each as O’Fallon went on for a 5-0 win at Belleville West High School.
Tied with Alton at 9-2 in the SWC, two games behind Edwardsville entering play on Tuesday, the Panthers (23-8) got Holba all the runs he would need in the first inning when Harrison rapped a two-run double off West starter Jacob Eccher for a 2-0 lead.
An East Carolina University recruit, Holba did the rest. Mixing his pitches brilliantly, Holba struck out nine in his complete game effort as he improves to 6-2 for the season.
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“Chris has a lot of poise and I think the reason for that is that he’s been in a lot of big-game situations for us in the past couple of years,’’ O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said. “Today, I don’t think he had the velocity on his fastball that he usually does, but he mixed up his pitches well and got ahead of the hitters all day. He made big pitches when they (West) had runners in scoring position.
“We also made good plays behind him on defense. It was a good effort. The kind of baseball we’ve played for most of the season.’’
While Holba was around the the strike zone all day, Eccher struggled in his 4 1/3 innings of work. It was a lack of control by Eccher that led to the Panthers’ first two runs in the first inning.
With one out, Nick Crabtree singled on a 3-1 pitch and Eccher walked Bradley Snyder to put runners on first and second. Harrison then doubled to the left-centerfield alley to clear the bases and give O’Fallon a 2-0 lead.
“I didn’t think Jacob (Eccher) pitched badly. He just had trouble throwing strikes early in the game and got behind the hitters. They (O’Fallon) took advantage of those situations,’’ West coach Todd Baltz said. “Offensively, (Holba) is a good pitcher but we had three or four situations where we had runners in scoring position and didn’t get the big hit.
“That’s been one of our concerns for most of the season. We haven’t been able to get the big hits in crucial situations on a consistent basis.’’
The Maroons, who wasted a two-out double in the first inning by Jacob Wilson, threatened in the bottom of the third inning. After Holba struck out the first two hitters, Cal Kossina singled and went to third base on a single by Spencer Piquard.
But Holba fanned Wilson to end the threat. The Maroons (10-16, 5-7) also had runners in scoring position in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings.
O’Fallon put the game away in the fifth inning. With one out, Snyder and Harrison singled to put runners on first and third base. Holba then lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Snyder to make the score 3-0.
Baltz protested the play for a minute, thinking that Snyder had left the base early, but the Maroons first year coach quickly gave up the argument. Eccher’s night then ended when he hit Jacob Holl with a pitch to put runners on first and second.
Reliever Jordan Krug then replaced Eccher and on his first pitch, Penrod tripled in both runs to make the score 5-0.
“We’re playing good bseball. Good strong, fundamental baseball which is what we’ve built this program around,’’ Portz said. “Tonight we played good defense, were able to get the big two-run hits from Bradley (Harrison) and Jackson (Penrod) and Chris (Holba) gave us another great start.
“We’re just looking to continue to play good baseball and building towards the postseason.’’
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at email@example.com or 618-239-2661.