The annual southern trip to Georgia turned out to be highly successful for the O’Fallon Panthers.
Their 4-0 run to the tourney championship at the Perfect Game Rawlings Select Classic over the weekend included victories over teams from Tennessee, Maryland, Georgia and Alabama.
“I was really impressed with our guys,” said O’Fallon coach Jason Portz, whose top-ranked 7-1 team made just one error in four tourney games. “It was as good of competition as we’ve seen in a four-game stretch since I’ve been coaching, there’s no doubt. It was a really, really quality event.
“The arms in this thing were as good as any event they’ve had down there.”
O’Fallon’s only loss this season was 11-1 to Joliet Catholic in the finale of the Prep Baseball Report Metro-East Kickoff Classic.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Jordan Richardson, a senior outfielder and first baseman at O’Fallon, keyed the 3-1 championship victory over Cullman (Alabama) on Saturday with a two-run double in the first inning. O’Fallon shortstop Josh Gibson and third baseman Nathan Martin each had two hits.
O’Fallon starter Heath Zuber allowed three hits and one run in six strong innings while Jaysn Miller finished up with a scoreless relief inning.
Richardson also had a big hit in the Panthers’ semifinal win, a 1-0 victory over Savannah (Georgia) Christian.
“Overall he had a really good tournament,” Portz said of Richardson, hitting .381 with four RBIs. “He had some really good swings.
Pitching was also a big factor in the semifinal win as Logan Boente tossed a three-hit shutout with six strikeouts. Boente is 3-0 with a 0.00 earned-run average while Hayden Juenger (2-0, 1.68 ERA), Brayden Arnold (2-0, 0.68 ERA) and Zuber (2-0, 1.66 ERA) are also off to good starts.
“We expected our pitching to be pretty good,” Portz said. “We felt like Juenger, Arnold and Boente were guys that were proven and would have confidence on the mound for us. Heath Zuber and Jaysn Miller have also stepped up.
“We’ve played eight games in just under two weeks. That’s a lot of baseball early in the season, especially trying to figure out the new pitch count rules and rest days.”
O’Fallon also defeated Ensworth (Tennesse) 5-2 at the tourney and beat DeMatha (Maryland) 8-5.
Among the top hitters have been Jacob Dreyer (.400, four RBIs), senior catcher Chase Hackstadt (.350, six RBIs), Gibson (.304, two RBIs) and Hayden Schaefer (.286, four RBIs). Arnold and Juenger have a combined nine RBIs.
“We feel like if we get going on all cylinders we’ve really got a potent offense,” said Portz, who added that Martin has the early edge in the third base battle for now.
It was O’Fallon’s third straight year traveling to the Atlanta suburb for the tournament.
“You really come together as a team,” Portz said. “As the tournament got going, the players realized every inning was going to be a battle and grind. Our guys really learned how to compete together.”
Belleville East alumni event
Belleville East will hold its second annual Baseball Alumni Day at 10 a.m. Saturday during the Lancers’ home game against Kaneland.
Hall of Fame former East coach Larry Patton will throw out the first pitch and all former Belleville East players, parents and fans are encouraged to participate. The alumni will be honored on the field following the varsity game and lunch will be provided by former Lancers’ pitcher Sam Lance, owner of Steamboat Biscuit and Brisket.
Belleville East coach Ryan Wiggs helped organize the inaugural event last spring, which attracted more than 40 former East players. He’s hoping for an even bigger turnout Saturday.
“From the response we’ve already gotten I think we;ll have more than that this year,” Wiggs said.
As an added bonus, the current Belleville East team will wear throwback Lancer baseball pinstripe jerseys from the 1990s. These are the actual jerseys, which had been stored by former coach Todd Blomberg.
“He never threw anything out,” Wiggs said. “I thought those looked the most retro so that’s what I went with.”
Former Belleville East players wanting to attend or looking for more information should contact Wiggs by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BND High School Baseball Rankings
Rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records through Sunday.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Waterloo (4-0), Columbia (6-2), Mascoutah (4-0), Civic Memorial (3-2), Highland (2-0), Freeburg (3-2), Collinsville (3-3), Triad (2-2)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Mater Dei (1-2), Althoff (1-3), Carlyle (4-4), Okawville (0-4), New Athens (2-3)