Getting a little help from his defense to stop an early Normal West scoring opportunity, O'Fallon senior pitcher Brayden Arnold ignited the Panthers with his bat Saturday in the title game of the Class 4A Bloomington Sectional.
Arnold gave the Panthers the lead with a two-run double in the third inning, then did the rest with his arm as he limited the Wildcats to one hit in a 9-0 win for O'Fallon.
Normal West (24-15) had runners on first and third base with one out in the third inning when Arnold got leadoff hitter Austin Collinson to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to end the threat.
The Panthers then struck in the bottom of the inning when, after Jeremy Reno and Josh Gibson reached base, Nathan Martin loaded the bases with a perfect bunt single up the third-base line.
Arnold then gave O'Fallon the only runs it would need with his two-run double.
"When I went out to start the top of the third inning, my arm felt a little shaky. I just tried to throw as many strikes as I could and hopefully get a ground ball to the right side of the infield.'' Arnold said. "When we turned the double play and I was able to hit that two-run double, it really helped my confidence.''
Senior Quinn Lowery then highlighted a six-run fifth inning with a bases-clearing, three-run double as O'Fallon (35-3-1) broke the game open. With Arnold in complete control, the Panthers coasted the rest of the way and claimed their first sectional title since 2015.
The win moves O'Fallon into the Champaign super-sectional Monday at the University of Illinois. The Panthers will take on Orland Park Sandburg at 4:30 p.m. Sandburg defeated Chicago Marist 8-0 to win the Lockport sectional Saturday.
Lowery, who added an RBI double in the sixth inning and finished with four RBIs on the day, said he was just trying to hit the ball hard when he faced Wildcats ace and University of Indiana recruit McCade Brown in the fifth inning.
"It was a fastball up in the strike zone,'' Lowery said. "With the way Brayden was pitching, we were able to put the game away there.
"This is just the next step on way towards the goal of winning the state championship.''
Both Arnold and Brown dominated in the first two innings. Using an overpowering fastball, Brown had five strikeouts in the first two innings. But pitching with just two days rest, Brown began to lose some of that velocity in the third inning.
"He (Brown) has great extension and velocity, but us continuing to be scrappy and extending counts, we knew he was pitching on just two days rest,'' O'Fallon coach Jason Portz said. "Brayden (Arnold) was just outstanding today. He was able to get his curveball over for strikes, and his fastball had great movement down today.
"But I really felt like the key was that he didn't feel like he had to strike everybody out today. How many 4-3, 5-3 and 6-3 putouts did we have today? That's a credit to our defense and our pitching philosophy.''
But the crucial part of the game was in the third inning. Two pitches before grounding into the double play, Collinson failed to execute on a safety squeeze bunt.
"That was the big play of the game,'' West coach Chris Hawkins said. "If we score there, maybe it's a different game.
"O'Fallon is a great team. We've played them 11 times, and before today, the series was tied. Their lineup is solid up and down, and they are every bit deserving of being ranked No. 1 in the state. I hope they win it all.''
Hayden Juenger and Wes Collins also had RBIs for O'Fallon on Saturday.