High School Sports

Deep pitching staff, experience have O'Fallon baseball off to fast start

O'Fallon senior Hayden Juenger is one of the top pitchers in the Southwestern Conference.
O'Fallon senior Hayden Juenger is one of the top pitchers in the Southwestern Conference. znizami@bnd.com

Take one quick look at the early season statistics and it's not difficult to see why the O'Fallon Panthers are 10-0 and atop the Southwestern Conference.

Loaded with experienced players up and down its lineup, O'Fallon has relied on a pitching staff led by seniors Brayden Arnold and Hayden Juenger, and a defense that has committed just four errors.

With senior Jacob Dreyer headlining a balanced Panthers attack that is averaging more than nine runs per game, O'Fallon appears to be a team to keep an eye on this spring.

"We have a lot of guys back who have played a lot of baseball, and that really helps us out especially defensively," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said. "We have a lot of guys who understand how to play the game.

"We've been limited (because of the weather) of what we normally do in terms of situational practicing. But because we can throw nine guys who out there who have played and know what to in different situations, it puts us ahead of the game."

O'Fallon, which has played nine of its first 10 games on its home turf at Blazier Field, improved to 2-0 in the SWC with a 13-3 win over Collinsville on Tuesday. Senior Adam Drewry worked the first three innings to get the win, while Arnold and senior Quinn Lowery each drove in two runs to lead the offense.

Drewry, who has allowed just five hits and one earned run in 10 1/3 innings, lowered his team-leading ERA to 0.68. He has been a surprise for the Panthers, who went into the season with four quality pitchers in Juenger, Arnold, Jason Miller and Logan Boente.

Together, those four pitchers have accounted for seven of the Panthers' 10 wins.

"We felt coming in to the season that those four pitchers were the ones we were going to lean on, and they've done a good job early in the season," Portz said. "Adam Drewry has really been a pleasant surprise the way he has pitched for us early on, and we still think we'll have some good results from Garrett Herring, who was the starting pitcher in our season opener."

Senior Nathan Martin is the leader of the Panthers' defense at second base and has teamed with junior shortstop Josh Gibson, along with center fielders Nick Boone and Caleb Shelton to give the Panthers solid play up the middle.

Martin and Gibson have also had presence at the plate. A starter since his freshman year, Gibson is hitting .387 with a home run and 10 RBI while Martin is hitting at a .391 clip with six RBIs.

"Nathan did a good job of playing second and third base last year and has really become our vocal leader in the infield," Portz said. "Josh (Gibson) is only a junior, but it seems like he's a senior because of the amount of baseball he has played for us the last three years.

"Offensively, it's been a case of the next man up. Brayden Arnold (.350, 8 RBIs), Juenger (.429) and Quinn Lowery (.400) have all hit the ball well early, but without question it's been Jacob (Dreyer) who has stepped up really hit the ball well."

Dreyer is hitting .524 with two home runs and 17 RBI.

Lancers no-hitter

The Belleville East Lancers are 2-3 to start their season, but coach Ryan Wiggs' team opened Southwestern Conference play last week with a bang as pitchers Ryan Culley and Ben Cruikshank combined for a no-hitter in a 2-0 win over Collinsville.

Culley pitched the first six innings, and Cruikshank pitched the seventh to pick up the save. Culley has had two starts, is 2-0 and has recorded 17 strikeouts in 11 2/3 innings on the mound.

Week 1 baseball poll

Class 3A-4A: 1. O'Fallon (10-0), 2. Edwardsville (5-2), 3. Mascoutah (5-0), 4. Triad (3-3), 5. Columbia (3-3)

Others receiving votes: Civic Memorial (5-1), Alton (3-0), Belleville West (4-6), Waterloo (2-1), Belleville East (2-3), Highland (1-2), Collinsville (3-3), Granite City (3-5)

Class 1A-2A: 1. Valmeyer (6-1), 2. Wesclin (3-1), 3. Nashville (4-1), 4. Carlyle (3-2), 5. Gibault (1-5)

Others receiving votes: Red Bud (3-3), Central (1-4)