The O'Fallon Panthers struck quickly in a showdown with the Mascoutah Indians on Friday at Blazier Field.
Junior shortstop Josh Gibson highlighted an eight-run first inning with a grand slam, and senior ace Hayden Juenger kept the offensive-minded Indians in check as O'Fallon rolled to an easy 11-0 win in a nonconference game.
Ranked first and second, respectively, in the News-Democrat large-school baseball poll, both the Panthers (24-1-1) and Indians (21-2) were riding nine-game winning streaks entering the contest.
Sending 11 batters to the plate against Mascoutah starting pitcher Cole Gober in the bottom of the first inning, O'Fallon took advantage of two hit batsmen, a walk and three Indians errors. Run-scoring doubles by Brayden Arnold and Juenger gave the Panthers a quick 2-0 lead, and Gibson's second career grand slam increased the Panthers' cushion to 8-0 before Gober was finally able to retire the side.
"In our half of the first (inning), we're always happy to put one run on the board. But we were able to take advantage of a couple of their (Mascoutah's) mistakes to score a couple of runs — and obviously Josh's grand slam was the big hit of the inning. But I thought we put together some really solid at bats tonight," O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said.
Juenger, who faced the minimum 18 hitters in six innings, hit a solo home run in the fifth inning, and Arnold ended the game with a two-run homer in the sixth inning. The game was stopped with one out in the sixth inning thanks to the 10-run rule.
A Missouri State University recruit, Juenger was in complete control throughout the game. Mascoutah leadoff hitter Jaelyn Curry started the game with a single up the middle and promptly stole second base.
Two pitches after the theft, Juenger picked Curry off second base to end the best scoring chance the Indians would mount. No other Indians base runner would reach second base the rest of the night.
Juenger was also aided by a solid effort by a Panthers defense that turned a pair of double plays. Portz was upbeat about the performance of Juenger, who, after getting a bit of a midseason break, will be stretched out in his next couple of starts as O'Fallon begins to prepare for what it hopes will be a lengthy postseason run.
"Hayden had good stuff. We haven't extended him much here the last couple of weeks, but we're going to extend him here the next couple of weeks," Portz said. "His fastball had a little more lift to it today, and his secondary stuff is also coming along.
"We're really sharp right now. You see it in games, but boy you really see it in the way we're practicing. I don't think we took more than one or two bad swings all day. We're confident in the (batter's) box. Our defense was just outstanding today, and I think our depth is starting to show."