Hoping for a more aggressive approach at the plate Tuesday, O’Fallon Panthers baseball coach Jason Portz got his wish.
The first five O’Fallon batters singled as the Panthers grabbed an early 3-0 lead and never looked back in an 11-0 Southwestern Conference victory over Belleville East.
O’Fallon senior right-hander Chris Holba (3-1) tossed a three-hit shutout and sent everyone home an inning early when he blasted a two-run homer to left in the sixth inning that helped the Panthers (9-3 overall, 2-0 in the SWC)) win because of the 10-run mercy rule.
“Baseball’s a game where you can take away a lot of momentum early and we were able to do that today,” said Portz, whose team went 2-2 at the Louisville Slugger Select Classic in Georgia over the weekend. “(East starter Brady) Schanuel is a strike-thrower and our kids went up there with an approach that he was going to be around the plate. Our guys made some things happen.
“We’ve been looking for that a little bit. We haven’t played poorly by any stretch, we’re 9-3 and we’ve played some really, really good opponents and seen some good pitchers already. Brady falls right into that category.”
Since he’s headed to Division I East Carolina for his pitching prowess instead of his hitting, it was a special thrill for Holba to deliver his first career game-winning bomb.
“It felt really good,” Holba said. “I knew it was gone off the bat.”
Holbam whose fastball reaches the upper-80 mph range, also struck out eight and 17 of the 18 outs were recorded on either strikeouts or ground balls on the infield. That includes five on grounders back to the mound by the Lancers (5-3, 1-1).
He has 36 strikeouts in 27 2/3 innings and a 1.01 ERA.
“Chris is going to get a lot of soft contact with some of the late movement and some of the run that he gets on his fastball,” Portz said. “He’s able to change speeds very well with his slider. Our infield’s going to be busy when he’s on the mound.”
O’Fallon’s No 3 and 4 hitters, Bradley Harrison and Bradley Snyder, combined for four hits and seven RBIs. Both had RBI singles during the three-run first and Harrison was 2-for-4 with three RBIs, giving him a .410 average with three homers and 17 RBIs in 12 games.
Snyder (.355, three doubles, 11 RBIs) was 2-for-3 with an RBI single, sacrifice fly and a two-run single in the sixth.
“Brad Snyder’s been a guy that has really hit into some hard luck,” Portz said. “His numbers don’t reflect it right now, but he’s really swung the bat well all year long. He never changes, his mentality its the same day after day.”
Nick Crabtree’s leadoff double helped kick off a three-run second that eventually knocked Schanuel out of the game. The hard-throwing senior right-hander had been nearly unhittable this spring, coming into the game with a 2-0 record, 1.11 ERA and 27 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Schanuel had allowed only five runs (three earned) all season.
“That was big for us to get a lead early, something we haven’t been able to do, but more important just to finish him off,” Holba said. “He’s an incredible pitcher and it was huge for us to get out early on him.”
Belleville East second baseman Logan Powell had two of the three hits off Holba. The other was on a leadoff double by Sheldon Howard in the sixth.
East reliever Jeff Caringer tossed three scoreless innings before the sixth, when Lancers reliever Travis Michalke allowed five runs on four hits.
“I think there’s a lot more to our team one through nine,” Portz said. “We just haven’t got going all the way up and down our order just yet. I feel like we started to do that - and were able to do that today.”
Harrison had an RBI single, Snyder had a two-run single and Holba blasted a two-run homer to left.
“That’s not what he gets asked to do,” Portz said of Holba. “He gets asked to go out on the mound and give us a solid effort like he did today, be able to pump the (strike) zone and change speeds well with his breaking pitch. When Chris is able to do those things he can really command the game.
“He’s in our lineup every day, so he’s a good player for us. He’s a senior and it’s his time.”