O’Fallon forced Belleville West’s defense to make plays Wednesday, but the Maroons were unable to respond.
West committed three errors, two of them coming in the top-seeded Panthers’ overwhelming six-run second that propelled them to a 12-4 victory over the Maroons in the semifinals of the Class 4A Granite City Regional.
The Panthers scored one in the first against Maroons senior Matt Klosterman, and Klosterman hurt his cause with a fielding error and a throwing error on bunts in West’s nightmarish second.
“Offensively, we came out and we executed and played fast,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said. “Obviously, the bunting game and the running game put a lot of pressure on their defense. They weren’t able to make the plays in certain situations and that broke the game open.”
O’Fallon (26-9) will play second-seeded Belleville East (17-12) in the championship game at 4 p.m. Saturday. East beat third-seeded Collinsville 4-3 in nine innings in the other semfiinal.
Senior Chris Holba, after being staked to the 7-0 lead, gave three runs back in the third when West left the bases loaded. The Panthers put the game away with a four-run fourth against Klosterman and senior reliever Jacob Eccher.
Holba allowed three runs (one earned) on four hits in five innings. He walked two and struck out five before giving way to relievers Kyle VanBevern in the sixth and Bradley Harrison in the seventh.
“It gave me a little comfort to pitch with the lead,” Holba said of the big inning. “I just tried to find the zone and continue to throw strikes. I try not to look at our side of the scoreboard. I just try to get as many zeroes as possible.”
Senior Jackson Penrod had a two-run double in the Panthers’ third, and VanBeverns and senior Nick Crabtree had RBI singles. The Panthers sent 10 men to the plate in the inning.
“They swung the bats well,” said West coach Todd Baltz, whose team finished 17-18. “It seemed like they were on our fastballs like they almost knew what was coming. We didn’t get the pitching we expected, but tip your hat to them. They’re a good-hitting team over there.
“They put the ball in play in a variety of different ways and put the pressure on us. At times, we couldn’t handle it. We expected a different outcome, but it didn’t happen today.”
Baltz, who finished his first season, was encouraged that the Maroons improved in the second half of their season.
“We were 4-14 at one point and our guys never cashed it in,” he said. “They kept coming to practice, working hard. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys for doing that.”
O’Fallon’s Nos. 7 through 9 hitters, Penrod, junior Camden Bauer and VanBeverns, were 7-for-9.
“The postseason is a tough way to play in baseball, with the one-and-done setup,” Portz said. “Sometimes, this first-round game is the most pressure-packed game you’ll play through the sectional because they haven’t been in that environment. They were able to play very loose and then whenever you’re able to play loose, a lot of things happen.
“Our offense kept moving and they kept the foot on the pedal.”