It was just her second game back in the pitcher’s circle and first since giving up seven earned runs to Edwardsville after a back strain put her on the shelf of more than a month.
But O’Fallon senior Addison Barnouski was pain free and back in form in a 2-0 win over Belleville West in the semifinals of the Collinsville Class 4A softball regional Tuesday.
Barnouski allowed the Maroons just two hits while striking out nine in the shutout win. At the plate, she doubled and scored the only run O’Fallon needed, then later drove home an insurance run with a sacrifice fly.
Belleville West head coach Casey Garrett, who pitched at Florida State University and later in a professional league, tried to prep her team for the Southeast Missouri State-bound Barnouski by throwing them batting practice Monday.
“I didn’t have any doubt we’d see Barnouski today,” said Garrett. “We prepared as best we could, but she’s a really good pitcher and we just couldn’t hit her today.”
Barnouski injured her back diving into a base during a game against Alton in the last week of April. She was in a back brace and blue jeans for the Panthers’ next game, unsure if she’d be able to play again the rest of the season.
“I feel great,” she said Tuesday. “There is no pain at all.”
O’Fallon (19-7) will face Southwestern Conference rival Alton (25-7) in the regional championship game Friday. The game, which originally was scheduled to start at 4:30 p.m., has been rescheduled for a noon start.
Alton defeated Collinsville, 8-1, in Tuesday’s other semifinal game.
“Alton has been strong all year and they always seem to show up ready to play,” said O’Fallon coach Kelly Paproth. “It should be a really good game and I’m excited for it.”
Sophomore pitcher Paige Cates was solid for the Maroons, allowing just the two earned runs on seven hits, six of them in the decisive fourth and fifth innings. She struck out four Panthers and walked none.
“That was probably the best game she’s pitched this year,” Garrett said. “I felt like she had more pop on her ball today. She was more in control of her pitches and I felt like they were moving more.
The Maroons will lose four seniors — Morgan Hinkle, Elizabeth Donald, Megan Glaeser and West career home-run leader Olivia Young — from a team that finished 14-20.
O’Fallon took the lead in fourth when Barnouski doubled with one out and scored on a two-out hit by Ginger Huskey.
“That at bat I was really telling myself — even if it was a bloop hit like that — I just need to ‘score Addie, score Addie,’” Huskey said. “The whole time I was up there I was being aggressive and wanting to attack.”
The Panthers were poised to blow the game open in the fifth inning when they loaded the bases with nobody out.
Cates got the first out of the inning with a force out at the plate on a sharp ground ball hit back at her by Cassie Brown. Then, she got Barnouski to pop up to left, allowing Katie Moore to tag and score from third.
A ground ball out got her out of the jam and could have turned the momentum of the game.
“I was disappointed — we don’t want to leave runners on base like that — but I was confident in the Addie and her defense,” Paproth said. “The defense has been so good all year long.”
The Pathers’ fielders did their part to keep Barnouski out of trouble. Shortstop Allison Underwood went high to rob Young of a sharp single to left in the sixth. A double play with none out and the tying run at the plate prevened a rally in the seventh.
“Allison’s catch at shortstop made me so happy. It was probably my favorite play of the night,” Barnouski said. “Our double play was pretty good too. My defense backed me up really well tonight.”
Young and junior Kiri Evans had the hits for West.
For O’Fallon, Moore was 2-for-3 with a run scored. She also reached on the game’s only error to lead off the game. Courtney Keller, Jordan DeRemer and Brown had the Panthers other hits.
Alton 8, Collinsville 1
Alton scored in four of six inning and senior pitcher Brittany Roady allowed just three hits to eliminate Collinsville, 8-1.
The Redbirds scored three in the first inning, one each in the second and third and three in the fifth to advance to the regional championship game. Roady gave up the single, unearned run in the second when Carlee Mahan reached on an error, advanced to third on a Addison Wickiser double, and scored on a ground out.
Beyond that, she struck out seven Kahoks and walked none.
Collinsville (10-22) committed six errors in the game.
The Redbirds got RBI hits from Miranda Hudson, Savannah Fisher and Bronte Fencel.