An unlikely fit of wildness cost the O’Fallon Panthers dearly Monday.
Seniors Kyle VanBevern and Chris Holba hit the first four batters with pitches in the seventh inning as Providence rallied past the Panthers 4-3 in the Class 4A Champaign Super-Sectional. The game was played at The Corn Crib, home of the Frontier League’s Normal CornBelters.
Panthers junior Camden Bauer’s single scored the tying run in the sixth to make it 3-3, but VanBevern hit juniors Jackson Dvorak and Tom Kelly to open the seventh. Holba, who started the game on the mound, relieved VanBevern and hit senior Matt Diehl and junior Mike Madej with his first two deliveries, forcing in junior courtesy runner Brendan O’Hara.
“It’s certainly something you don’t see often, if ever,” Panthers coach Jason Portz said. “It’s the way the game goes sometimes. When you get to this situation, this type of game with the magnitude of the game (it was), there’s a lot of pressure on players. There’s a lot of pressure on a 17-, 18-year-old kid out there to execute and to do things.”
Providence senior Justin Hunniford, who started the game at first base before getting the final two outs in the sixth in relief of senior right-hander Jake Carlsen, set down the Panthers (30-10) in order in the seventh and picked up the victory.
The Celtics (21-11), the defending Class 4A state champions, will play Oak Park-River Forest in the state semifinals at 5 p.m. Friday in Joliet.
“I was thinking, ‘He’s going to throw me a fastball. I’ve got to hit it,’” Madej said of his important at-bat against Holba with the bases loaded in the seventh. “He ended up hitting me. I’ve never seen (four consecutive hit batters), but I had never seen before the game when the field was covered with hail, and we played 20 minutes later.”
Celtics coach Mark Smith acknowledged the weirdness of the seventh.
“I’ve never seen it before,” he said. “I’m not complaining about it, but I’ve never seen it before. We were fortunate in that situation. There’s no doubt. We were hoping to get a couple more (runs) out of that, but we hit two balls on the button and they just happened to be right at people. You thought that maybe that would be the momentum swing to give it back to them, but Justin came in there and pounded the strike zone and got us some ground balls.”
After the hit by pitch to Madej, Holba got junior Jackson Stulas on a short fly to right and induced a 6-4-3 double play off the bat of junior Matt Waznis. But any momentum the Panthers might have been gained from the escape wasn’t realized when VanBevern struck out, junior Dillon Weiss grounded out to second and senior Nick Crabtree grounded out to shortstop.
O’Fallon fell behind 1-0 in the third, took a 2-1 lead in the fourth and trailed 3-2 in the sixth before Bauer’s key single knotted the game in the sixth.
The Panthers were unable to capitalize on a pair of Providence errors, and the Celtics also committed two outs on the bases. Holba picked off Madej after Madej led off the game with a bloop single. Junior Jim Jeffries tripled to left-center to start the second, but Jeffries overslid third base and was tagged out by VanBevern.
“I thought early in the game, ‘Maybe this isn’t going to be our day,’” Smith said. “That’s a very good baseball team over there.”
Carlsen, pitching on three days’ rest, allowed three runs (earned) on five hits in 5 1/3 innings. He walked one and struck out four. Holba worked the first five-plus innings before giving way to Van Bevern, then closed out the seventh. In his six innings, Holba was charged with three runs (earned) on five hits, with three walks and two strikeouts.
“You could tell Kyle was struggling a little bit to find his command,” Portz said of his decision to call on Holba once again. “We were in a scenario where we needed a strikeout. Chris’ pitch count was low. He was still warm; it’s a warm day. Chris just didn’t make the pitch in that scenario. But right after he hit that batter, he came back ... and we’re out of the inning, ready to compete.”
O’Fallon players consoled one another for 20 minutes after the game. Fans then applauded the Panthers as they made their way to the bus.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Portz said. “That’s a tough situation to be in. I’m proud of how we competed and came back and tied it up. We did a lot of things right today. That’s a darn good team. Their batters were really tough against Chris today. If he made a mistake up or over the plate, they put a good swing on it.”
Game at a Glance
CELTICS THIRD: With two outs, No. 9 hitter Matt Diehl singled. Mike Madej followed with a triple down the third-base line to score Diehl. PROVIDENCE 1, O’FALLON 0.
PANTHERS FOURTH: Jackson Penrod singled with one out and went to third on Camden Bauer’s double off the left-field wall. Kyle VanBevern singled to left to score Penrod, and Dillon Weiss drove in the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to left. O’FALLON 2, PROVIDENCE 1.
CELTICS SIXTH: Jackson Stulas led off with a walk and scored on Matt Waznis’ double into the right-field corner. VanBevern relieved Holba and retired Jimmy Jeffries on a roller to first as Waznis took third. Zach Pych then hit a sacrifice fly to left. PROVIDENCE 3, O’FALLON 2.
PANTHERS SIXTH: Jacob Holl doubled and was lifted for courtesy runner Christian Koechner. Justin Hunniford relieved and retired Penrod, but Bauer drove in Koechner with a soft single to right. O’FALLON 3, PROVIDENCE 3.
CELTICS SEVENTH: VanBevern hit the first two batters before Holba re-entered the game. Holba hit the next two batters to force in a run, but escaped further damage by getting a short fly to right and a 6-4-3 double play. PROVIDENCE 4, O’FALLON 3.