When Joe Bauer was hired as the new baseball coach at O’Fallon High School last summer he promised a new approach based on pressuring on the opposition.
On Tuesday, the Belleville West Maroons got a first-hand look at what Bauer was talking about.
Senior shortstop Josh Gibson atoned for a pair of early fielding errors with a two-run double to highlight a six-run fourth inning and O’Fallon went on for a 12-3 win in a Southwestern Conference game.
A four-year starter and one of the top players in the metro-east, Gibson’s double came off Maroons ace Joey Kossina and extended the Panthers’ lead to 4-0.
Kyle Becker, Tyler Stanton and Cody Bauer added run scoring singles later in the inning for O’Fallon (7-3) which built a 7-0 lead. Belleville West (7-1), which committed a season-high six errors, would get no closer as Gibson added a three-run home run with one out in the top of the fifth to extend the lead to 10-0.
“He (Gibson) is kind of our engine — as he goes, we go,’’ Bauer said. “I’m not making excuses for my team, but we play on turf and when you go from turf to play on grass, it’s different.. He’s the type of player who could go the next 50 or 75 chances without making error.
“But he made up for with his bat. He’s got some power for a little guy.’’
O’Fallon starting pitcher Ben Koenig did the rest. Stranding four Maroons on base in the first two innings, Koenig allowed just two runs in five innings as he ran his record to 2-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.87 for the season.
As good as Gibson and Koenig were on this spring day, the difference in the SWC opening game for both teams was the small ball played by O’Fallon.
O’Fallon, which also stranded four runners in the first two innings, jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the third when Gibson reached to lead off, stole two bases and scored on a fielder’s choice. Gibson had three of the Panthers’ eight stolen bases on Tuesday.
“I told people that we would be a different O’Fallon team than what most were used to seeing,” Bauer said. “You play to your strengths and our strength is to put the ball in play, hit and run and put pressure on the opposition. When you put pressure on people it forces them to play fast, When you play fast, you are more apt to make mistakes.’’
West, which had played well in winning its first seven games, made more mistakes in seven innings Tuesday than it had all season.
“It was about as bad as you can play,’’ West coach Todd Baltz said. “I have no reason for it. We asked the kids and thought we were ready to play. But we weren’t. We had a couple of scoring chances early that we didn’t take advantage of. One of the good things about baseball is that tomorrow is a new day and a new game.”
Koenig, getting late inning relief help from Gibson, did exactly what Bauer wanted against a strong Maroons offense.
“Ben isn’t going to overpower anyone, but he can throw three pitches for strikes and today I thought he did a good job of keeping hitters off balance,’’ Bauer said. “From top to bottom this was about as well as we’ve it the ball in one game all season.”