While winning regional championships is nice, a state championship is the goal for every O’Fallon Panthers baseball team.
It hasn’t happened yet, but since 2005 the Panthers have two third-place finishes at state, nine regional titles and four sectional championships. The Panthers were 33-6 last season and reached the sectional final, but could potentially be even better this spring.
“We’re more athletic than we’ve been in the past,” said O’Fallon coach Jason Portz, whose team opened the season with back-to-back shutout wins over Chatham Glenwood and Moline. “We’ve got as good of athletes as we’ve ever had at any position and this is going to be a solid group for us.
“We’ve got great pitching depth and defensively we’re going to be as good as we’ve ever been.”
The Panthers, ranked ninth in the state by PrepBaseballReport.com, have 30 or more wins in five of the last six seasons.
Junior right-hander Logan Boente (7-1, 2.39 ERA) will be joined at the top of the pitching rotation by a pair of hard-throwing transfers from Collinsville, juniors Hayden Juenger (4-3, 1.67 ERA) and Brayden Arnold (1-0, 3.73 ERA).
We’ve got great pitching depth and defensively we’re going to be as good as we’ve ever been. O’Fallon coach Jason Portz
Juenger and Boente combined to shut out Chatham Glenwood 1-0 in the opener, allowing only three hits and striking out eight. Arnold tossed six scoreless innings and allowed only three hits while striking out six in the 9-0 win over Moline.
“They all bring something a little bit different to the table,” Portz said. “Juenger’s a hard thrower who can hit the upper 80s. He’s got the potential to be top-flight guy. Arnold is a power pitcher with a sharp breaking pitch, and Boente is more of a control and command guy who gets outs on off-speed pitches.”
Also in the pitching mix are seniors Heath Zuber and Justin Dye, junior Quinn Lowery and sophomores Luke Gasser and Matthew Albrittton.
The big loss was 2016 BND Large-School Player of the Year and all-state pick Bradley Harrison (12-0, 0.55 ERA; .402, six homers, 35 RBIs), now playing for Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
Other key losses to graduation were Harrison, shortstop Camden Bauer (Alabama), first baseman Bradley Snyder and outfielder Dillon Weiss (Truman State).
A potentially strong outfield included senior and McKendree University recruit Hayden Schaaefer (.452, three homers, 11 RBIs) in center and Jordan Richardson (.262, one homer, 19 RBIs) in right. Also vying for time are juniors Caleb Shelton and Nick Boone as well as senior Christian Koechner.
Sophomore shortstop and Missouri State recruit Josh Gibson hit .309 with 14 RBIs as a freshman second baseman last spring.
“He’s stronger and 20 to 25 pounds heavier than he was last year,” Portz said. “I think we’re going to see his game go to another level.”
Senior first baseman Joe Guithues (.267, one homer, 19 RBIs) started the last two seasons as a designated hitter. Arnold (.354, eight doubles, two homers, 18 RBIs) and junior Jacob Dreyer could also see time at first, while Dreyer also can be used at third base or designated hitter.
Juenger (.247, one homer, 11 RBIs) and senior Dominic Smiley are at second base. An elbow injury to returning third baseman Jared Dalonzo that required Tommy John surgery left an opening that has been filled by Dreyer and much-improved junior Nathan Martin.
Dreyer was 4-for-6 with four RBIs in the first two games.
Senior Chase Hackstadt (.239, 17 RBIs) returns at catcher.
“He’s a four-year varsity player and three-year starter,” Portz said. “He knows and understands how to handle our pitching staff and is a great leader on and off the field.”