Big hits, kicks and jumps
Listed as 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds in the O’Fallon Panthers’ baseball media guide, junior pitcher Ben Koenig doesn’t strike fear into opposing hitters or possess an overpowering fastball.
But once again Friday, Koenig proved he knows what it takes to win.
Koenig (5-1) allowed three hits in five innings while his teammates took advantage of three Belleville East errors and stole eight bases as the Panthers went on for an easy 11-1 win in a Southwestern Conference game at Blazier Field.
Playing for the first time in a week, O’Fallon (16-7) wasted little time in shaking off the rust. Senior shortstop Josh Gibson had a run-scoring triple in the first inning, then highlighted a five-run second inning with a two-run double to give his team a quick 7-0 lead.
With Koenig allowing only a run-scoring double to the Lancers’ Kannon Walker in the fourth inning, the Panthers fifth straight win was never in doubt after the early offensive display.
The game was stopped in the bottom of the fifth inning by the 10-run rule.
“If we had a team that hit a lot of doubles and had a lot of power, it would be a different story. But we’re not that type of team. We have to make contact, steal bases and put pressure on the opposition,” first-year O’Fallon coach Joe Bauer said. “I was happy with how we came out and swung the bats tonight.
“Josh (Gibson) is our leader. We go as he goes, and tonight, he got a couple of hits and got us started early.”
Koenig was sharp early. Mixing his pitches and chancing speeds well, the O’Fallon ace had four strikeouts in the first two innings. He wasn’t quite as sharp after the Panthers batted around and scored five runs in the second inning.
Losing pitcher Evan Gray lined a leadoff double in the fourth inning and scored on Walker’s double for the Lancers’ only run of the game. But the University of Arkansas recruit struggled on the mound. After a long second inning in which he made a pair of errors, he was taken out by East coach Ryan Wiggs.
“It was just one of those nights. Evan has just been so strong for us all year,’’ Wiggs said. “We haven’t played this week, but that’s not an excuse. With the weather, everybody has been in the same boat.
“I think we struck out four or five times in the first two innings. We just didn’t put the ball in play.’’
East falls to 13-11 for the season.