Prep Baseball & Softball

Harrison’s monster home run, Holba’s pitching help O’Fallon to victory

It’s only 305 feet down the right-field line at O’Fallon’s Blazier Field, but the massive two-run homer belted by Bradley Harrison on Tuesday did not just sneak over the fence.

It followed a laser-like path as it grazed a tree, bounced on the far side of Highway 50 and wound up in the hands of a customer at the Dairy Queen Grill and Chill across the street.

The shot by the junior outfielder keyed a four-run fourth inning that broke open a close game as O’Fallon rocked Alton 11-2 to force a tie for second place in the Southwestern Conference with the Redbirds.

“It was definitely one of the farthest balls that I’ve seen one of our guys hit,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said of Harrison, a Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit hitting .416 with four home runs and 42 RBIs. “Those are like one, two or three scoops over there at Dairy Queen. We’ll call that a three-scooper I think.

“It might have hit Dairy Queen if it wouldn’t have nicked part of that tree.”

Harrison didn’t seem quite as impressed with his two-run bomb.

“A ball over the fence here is a ball over the fence,” he said. “We don’t really talk about how far or anything like that. I do like the line-drive stroke, trying to stay middle away, trying to drive the left-center field gap, but I will turn on a few balls occasionally.”

Consider that one turned into oncoming traffic.

O’Fallon (24-9 overall, 11-3 in SWC play) has won 11 of its last 12 games as it gears up for postseason play next week. Harrison said finishing tied for second behind Edwardsville is a solid accomplishment.

“It’s still a very good feeling with the Southwestern Conference and all the good competition we’ve got,” he said. “I’m just excited about the way we’re playing right now.”

O’Fallon senior ace Chris Holba (7-2) faced the minimum three batters in six of seven innings against Alton, allowing only three hits while striking out nine.

“He’s a competitor, throws multiple pitches for strikes,” Alton coach Todd Haug said of the East Carolina-bound Holba, who also is considered a possibility for the major league raft. “Good for him. He’s well-schooled, he was very impressive today.”

Alton (28-6, 11-3) had tied the school record for wins in a season the day before, but now will have to wait until Wednesday to get another shot at breaking it. Senior ace Bryan Hudson, who did not get the start Tuesday, will be on the mound against Jerseyville.

“Just a tough game, tough day,” Haug said. “It is what it is, we’ll bounce back tomorrow.”

O’Fallon broke on top 2-0 in the first against Alton stater Nick Cauley, who left with elbow tightness in the second inning.

“Just tightness, a little bit of sharp pain in his elbow at this point,” Haug said. “We’ll have to re-evaluate and we’ll check him out tomorrow.”

Harrison stroked a two-run double in the second against reliever Jacob St. Peters, but Alton struck back with two runs in the third on an RBI single by Matt Hopkins and Carter Hayden scoring on a strike-three wild pitch.

Holba allowed only one more hit, a one-out single in the seventh to Derrick Allen.

He got more run support in the fourth when Nick Crabtree’s RBI single and a run-scoring double by Bradley Snyder proceeded Harrison’s two-run round tripper.

Snyder, Holba and Jacob Holl all had RBI hits in the sixth. All four runs in the fourth inning came after two were out.

“We competed well at the plate,” Portz said. “A lot of our (at-bats) were two-strike hits, which I was happy with. That’s a point of emphasis there and that’s what we’ve been looking for. The difference between winning and losing or getting on a winning streak or losing streak is execution on a big play in the game or a two-out knock in the game.

“We were able to get that done today and we’ve been able to get that done a little more often with some of our guys in the middle of the order.”

Snyder and Harrison were a combined 4-for-5 Tuesday with two doubles, a homer and six RBIs. Dillon Weiss, Nick Crabtree and Snyder scored nine of the Panthers’ 11 runs.

Edwardsville handed O’Fallon two of its three conference losses and the Panthers split with Alton.

“To get 11 wins in the Southwestern Conference, that’s won a conference championship in a lot of years,” Portz said. “I feel like we put our best foot forward when it came to the Southwestern Conference season. We just came up a little bit short.”

Contact reporter Norm Sanders at nsanders@bnd.com or 618-239-2454. Follow him on Twitter: @NormSanders.

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