O’Fallon wasn’t known for its long-ball attack this season.
But the warm, humid weather during the playoffs has helped the Panthers find their power swing. They hit three more home runs Saturday, giving them six in their past two games, as they defeated Belleville East 10-3 in the title game of the Class 4A O’Fallon Regional.
Junior Brayden Arnold smacked a two-run homer in the first, sophomore Josh Gibson followed with a two-run shot in the second and senior Jordan Richardson had a solo homer in the third to back the strong pitching of senior Hayden Juenger.
“We had a good game today,” said Gibson, a shortstop who has verbally committed to Missouri State. “Our defense was solid and our bats were ringing.”
Arnold’s two-out drive over the left-field wall against Lancers senior Evan Lawrence followed a walk to Juenger and quickly put the Panthers on top to stay at 2-0.
“I got a 2-0 count and just put a good swing on it,” Arnold said. “BP (batting practice) today was really good. It got us ready for this game.”
Now the Panthers (32-5) are ready for more. They will face Edwardsville (30-7) in the semifinals of the Bloomington sectional at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Woodland Park in Collinsville. Edwardsville defeated Belleville West 5-1 to win the Edwardsville regional.
“There’s no doubt the swing Brayden put on the ball on a 2-0 count was really, really important for our offense,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said. “We were sitting there with two outs. ... That was key in that situation. (Arnold) put a good swing on it. East could have easily rolled and taken the momentum, and then who knows what happens?”
The Lancers, instead, finish the season 17-20. East coach Ryan Wiggs used five pitchers but couldn’t find an answer against an O’Fallon offense that had seven hits along with nine walks.
“Being down 2-0 in the first inning was tough,” Wiggs said. “Three home runs hurt us. They hit them all (well). All those guys have pitched well this year. But they got runs off all of them.”
Juenger (7-2) allowed two runs (earned) on three hits in 4 2/3 innings for the Panthers. He walked one and struck out four. Junior Jaysn Miller worked the final 2 1/3.
“Hayden went out and does what he does,” Portz said. “He got ahead with his fastball, and when you get a big lead, you just have to pound the zone. That’s what he did.”
East got two hits from senior Jordan Phillips. Sophomore Gage Cruz had a sacrifice fly in the fourth, and senior Jaden Webb had an RBI double in the fifth.
Gibson finished with three hits for the Panthers, while Richardson was 2-for-4.
The game was delayed by lightning and rain for 2 hours, 21 minutes. O’Fallon led 9-2 when play was halted after 4 1/2 innings.