Miles Brunk would love to have the first inning to do over again.
It took him seven O'Fallon batters to settle into a dominating five-inning finish. But the three runs he spotted the Panthers and ace Chris Holba was too much for the Lancers to overcome.
O'Fallon defeated East, 4-1, Thursday in a match of two Southwestern Conference teams looking to build momentum for the post season, which begins in two weeks.
Holba cruised, allowing just three hits and a walk while striking out 13 in seven innings. He entered Thursday's game with four wins and a .84 earned run average.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to Belleville News-Democrat
"Chris hasn't had an outing where he's let up. He goes out there and puts us on his back," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said of his starter. "That's what Chris does and he's been like that all year.
"There is a lot of good pitching in the conference and I feel like Chris Holba is right up there in the top."
For most of the game, Brunk looked like he belonged in that conversation as well.
After the first inning, he allowed just one hit, then promptly coaxed a double play. In the meantime he struck out seven O'Fallon batters in the five innings before giving way to relieve in the seventh.
But he walked two batters with one out in the top of the first and surrendered RBI hits to Bradley Harrison and Holba. Harrison scored the Panthers' third run by beating out a throw to the plate off a ground ball hit by catcher Jacob Holl.
"We didn't start out really good," Burnk said. "The slider wasn't working really good, they jumped on the fast balls when they got them, and I had too many walks too early."
Brunk threw nearly a third of his 107 pitches during the first inning rally, which forced him out of the game at the end of the sixth. The Panthers scratched out an insurance run in the seventh when Camden Bauer stole home as East chased Kyle VanBevern in a rundown between first and second.
"I know Miles really wanted to finish — which is good because he's a competitor and wants to be out there — but we have to be concerned about next week too," said East coach Todd Blomberg.”
East scored its only run of the game in the third when Sheldon Howard reached on an infield hit and later scored on a single by designated hitter Brady Schanuel.
"Trying to come back in a game like that against a pitcher like Chris Holba is kind of tough,” Blomberg said. “We had our own opportunity in the first with two guys on and one out and we weren't able to do anything. Credit the guy on the mound for keeping us off the board, but I thought we could have done a little more to get some runs across."
The Lancers (14-10) have seven games scheduled over the next eight days, including a cross-town match up with Althoff and conference games against Belleville West and Collinsville.
The Granite City 4A Regional begins for both East and O'Fallon on May 25.
"The good news is the toughest stretch of our schedule is behind us — we two against Alton, then Edwardsville and now O'Fallon," Blomberg said. "I'm not sure anyone in our are had four tougher games. We competed really well in three of the four and I'm really proud of that. I like where we're at, I like our team.”
The Panthers (19-8) have won six games in a row and seven of their last eight. At 8-2 in the Southwestern Conference and three league games remaining, O'Fallon still has a chance to catch first-place Edwardsville.
The Tigers and second-place Alton will be in O'Fallon May 14 and 19 respectively.
"We're not too concerned with the Southwestern Conference," Holba said. "It's the playoffs that really matter."