Southwestern Conference perfection eluded the Belleville West Maroons on Tuesday.
O’Fallon hit the Maroons with five runs in the second inning, with sophomore Josh Gibson’s grand slam against senior Jack Lanxon being the key blow in the Panthers’ 6-4 victory.
The Maroons (21-8 overall, 13-1 SWC) had already clinched the SWC title with a victory Thursday over East St. Louis. But Gibson, a shortstop, said the Panthers (27-4, 11-2) were motivated to prevent West from going undefeated.
“It was really important for us,” said Gibson, a Missouri State recruit. “It’s a nice little boost. Now we have to finish the conference Thursday. We have to finish strong.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said the Panthers stress playing well against all opponents.
“It’s important we place an emphasis on coming out and being really good on Tuesdays and Thursdays for conference games,” said Portz, whose team lost to West 3-2 on April 18. “Our nonconference games are important to us, too, but we try to win every game. We’re going to give the same effort against Belleville West as we are any other club in the conference.
“Belleville West has had a great season. To go through our conference 13-0 and to get to this point, what a great team they are. It’s a feather in our cap to win this game today. We’re real proud of the victory.”
The Maroons scored two in the first and led 2-1 heading into the last of the second. That’s when O’Fallon loaded the bases on two singles and an error. That brought Gibson to the plate, and he sat on a 2-1 fastball from Lanxon and drove it over the wall in left to make it 5-2.
“It was a fastball down,” Gibson said. “It was a good pitch. I was looking for it, and in BP (batting practice), we were practicing on that pitch. I really didn’t expect to hit that ball over, of course. I was trying to hit that ball over the second baseman, but he threw it there and I got a hold of it. I thought it was a line drive right to (the left fielder).”
O’Fallon added another run in the second after Gibson’s grand slam. West got within 6-3 in the fourth and 6-4 in the sixth. In the seventh, a throwing error by Gibson helped the Maroons get the tying runs into scoring position against junior reliever Hayden Juenger.
West senior Buddy Gore then hit a sharp grounder to the right of Gibson, who made a pickup and strong throw to first play to end the game.
“It was a good game overall,” Maroons coach Todd Baltz said. “One bad inning. We pretty much fell apart there in the second. If we could have limited the damage, who knows what happens. It was good to see a little bit of fight, but we’ve got to learn to limit the damage and take care of the small things.”
Junior Brayden Arnold (7-0) worked six innings for the victory. The right-hander allowed four runs (earned) on seven hits, walked two and struck out three.
Gibson had two of O’Fallon’s six hits. Senior Joe Guithues had a walk and an RBI single.
Senior Jake Jenkins threw four shutout innings in relief of Lanxon. Junior Nick Westerheide had a two-run single for West in the first. Senior Matt Sisk drove in the Maroons’ other two runs with a sacrifice fly and an infield out. Junior Hunter Grupe had two doubles.
“It would have been nice,” Baltz said of finishing 14-0. “But it would have been just a minor detail, hopefully, with what we have going for the rest of the season. We’ll see how we bounce back. This was a good wake-up call against a quality opponent.”