After surviving an 18-inning game to beat rival Belleville East and then taking out favored Edwardsville in the regional championship, the Belleville West Maroons turned their attention to top-seeded O’Fallon in the Class 4A sectional.
While the Maroons had an early 3-0 lead Wednesday and tied the game in the bottom of the seventh, they couldn’t survive the hitting onslaught of Bradley Snyder and a perfectly placed bunt in a 6-5, nine-inning sectional semifinal defeat to the Panthers.
Snyder went 4-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs, including the leadoff double in the ninth that led to the winning run.
“He’s just the player of the game in my mind,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said of Snyder, a senior who had only three hits in his previous 19 at-bats before Wednesday. “He hasn’t had a hit in two weeks and he’s been lacing balls all over the field ... you don’t see a drop in his character, you don’t see a drop in his effort. That’s why he sits in that three-hole and he’s a senior leader for us.”
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O’Fallon (33-5), ranked 18th in the nation in the latest USA Today Super 25 poll, will face either Plainfield South or Minooka in the sectional championship game at 11 a.m. Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
The loss was a tough one for Belleville West (24-9), which came within three outs of knocking off Edwardsville and O’Fallon in back-to-back playoff games. The Maroons even scored three times in the first inning against unbeaten O’Fallon starter Brad Harrison (12-0), who left with two outs in the eighth before sophomore Logan Boente (7-1) got the final four outs to pick up the win.
What an effort all the way around. I’m really happy with the win; it’s one of those most thrilling wins we’ve had in my time here.
O’Fallon coach Jason Portz
All three of O’Fallon’s playoff wins have come by one run.
“Hopefully we could have had a little magic in the extra innings, but it just didn’t happen today,” said Belleville West coach Todd Baltz, whose club tied it in the seventh on a two-out RBI single by shortstop Buddy Gore. “With the 18-inning game I thought maybe we could pull another rabbit out of the hat but we just couldn’t make it happen.”
Facing West reliever Cal Kossina in the ninth, Snyder roped a double to the wall in left-center and then was replaced by pinch-runner Caleb Shelton. The Maroons intentionally walked Harrison for the second time in the game to bring up Jordan Richardson.
With runners at first and second, Richardson pushed a perfect bunt past Kossina on the mound that kept rolling toward shortstop. Shelton was flying around third and came all the way in to score what proved to be the winning run.
“He’s not a bunter, but he practices bunting every single day,” Portz said. “That says a lot about Jordan Richardson. (Shelton) has been a runner only for us pretty much for two years and what a weapon he is. He’s going as hard as he can on that ball and ther wasn’t even a play (at the plate).
“What an effort all the way around. I’m really happy with the win; it’s one of those most thrilling wins we’ve had in my time here.”
With everything else that happened, a bunt wound up making the difference.
With the 18-inning game I thought maybe we could pull another rabbit out of the hat but we just couldn’t make it happen.
Belleville West coach Todd Baltz
After being shut out on one hit by Harrison earlier this season, the Maroons got an RBI double by Kossina, an RBI single by Tai Kezerian and pushed across three runs in the first inning.
The total might have climbed higher had the Panthers not thrown Kezerian out at the plate trying to score on a double to center by Wyatt Parker.
Kezirian tried to go through O’Fallon catcher Chase Hackstadt with a collision at the plate, but was thrown out and then ejected by the home plate umpire for not sliding.
“No question, that was a huge momentum-changer,” Portz said. “What a play by Dillon Weiss to get to the ball and get rid of the ball, then (shortstop) Camden Bauer’s got a Division I arm and throws a strike to Chase Hackstadt, who’s hanging in there on a big tag play at the plate.”
With his team down 3-0, O’Fallon’s Hayden Schaefer woke up his teammates by crushing a two-run homer to center in the second inning off West starter Luke Vallandingham.
“With my approach, on 0-0 or 1-0 I’m looking for a fastball middle in, so he hung it right down the middle for me,” Schaefer said.” I was able to get some backspin on the ball and let it go for a ride.”
What a ride it was as an O’Fallon team staring at a potential upset suddenly found new life.
“For Hayden to answer like he answered with the home run, it just changed the whole pulse of the game,” Portz said. “if we don’t get a run there or maybe even if we get one, it’s a whole different situation. To get the two-run homer and to be uplifted in that situation, that really just ignited our dugout.”
Harrison’s RBI double tied it 3-3 in he third, but the Maroons regained the lead in their half of the third on an RBI double by Vallandingham.
Snyder’s two-run double in the fourth gave O’Fallon a 5-4 lead, but the Maroons — held to only two hits from the second to the sixth inning — manufactured the tying run with the bottom of the lineup in the seventh inning.
Parker singled leading off the inning and pinch-runner Nick Westerheide was bunted to second and later scored on Gore’s RBI hit.
“I’ve got to give our guys credit,” Baltz said. “They’re relentless.”