‘Shell-Shocked’ Panthers have season end in Sectional Finals

BY RICH HULL
O'FALLON WEEKLY SPORTS
OTHS Baseball

Head Coach Jason Portz gives some instructions to his hitters and baserunners during a timeout against Belleville West.
(O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Rich Hull)

“Shell-shocked” is how Panthers’ varsity Head Coach Jason Portz described Saturday’s Class 4A Sectional Championship game against Plainfield South. “We hadn’t played a bad inning all season; and, one bad inning today cost us our season” He continued.

Things looked bright for O’Fallon early on in the game. Dillon Weiss doubled and then scored on Brad Snyder’s RBI single in the first inning. The second inning saw Hayden Schaefer hit a laser over straight-away center field for a solo home run. His second in as many games.

The lead was short lived. The Cougars tied it at two each in the bottom of the second; and, went up by two, 4 – 2 in the bottom of the fourth.

Then the top of the fifth came for the Panthers. Jason Gibson doubled and Weiss singled to move him to third. Jared Dalonzo had a SAC fly to bring Gibson in to make it 4 – 3. Cougars’ pitcher, Konnor Ash then walked both Snyder and Harrison to load the bases and his day was done.

“We thought that we had them right where we wanted them” Portz said. “We forced their best pitcher out of the game and they were bringing in a guy who had just thrown over 100 pitches on a day’s rest. So, we felt really confident.”

Plainfield South’s reliever got Jordan Richardson to hit into a fielder’s choice to shut down the Panthers’ rally. That would be O’Fallon’s last at bat for the game.

Starting pitcher Max Schaefer did a great job keeping the Panthers’ in the game. He went four innings before turning the ball over to Logan Boente and Brad Snyder in the fifth inning. The one bad inning that Portz referred to earlier. The Cougars scored nine runs in the inning, ending the game by the 10-run rule.

“Baseball can be a game of inches at times” Portz said. “Sometimes the ball gets caught and sometimes it lands just in front of you and you can’t get to it.”

“I’m definitely disappointed” said senior Brad Harrison. “No one wanted our season to end this way. But, I couldn’t be prouder of the team and their preparation.”

“This was definitely an unfortunate way for our seniors to go out” Portz said. “We had great energy and good at bats…..I couldn’t be prouder of this team and the way that they played all season long.”

The season ended with the Panthers winning 33 games. The second most in the program’s history. They also entered the championship game as the #18 team in the country in the USA Today’s Super 25 Poll. That is a first for the program to be recognized at the National level.

Coach Portz described this season as “Passionate”. “The kids loved to win and play for each other. But most of all, they loved to play the game and they put their hearts into it every time they stepped on the field.”

The Panthers earned the right to play in the championship game by defeating a Belleville West team that wouldn’t go away. It took nine innings before O’Fallon won 6 – 5.

OTHS Baseball

Hayden Schaefer launches a two-run homer against the Maroons in the Sectional Semifinals (O’Fallon Weekly Photo by Rich Hull)

O’Fallon spotted the Maroons three runs in the first inning before Hayden Schaefer laced a two-run shot over the fence in center field. O’Fallon tied the game at three on an RBI double by Harrison in the third. Belleville West scored one in their half of the third to go back up by a run 4 – 3.

Snyder hit a two-run double in top of the fourth to give the Panthers’ their first lead of the game,  5 – 4. It was a lead that they would hold until the bottom of the seventh as Harrison held the Maroons to just two hits and off the bases from the second inning to the sixth.

It was the Maroons’ bottom of the lineup that tied the game and send it to extra innings. A single followed by a SAC bunt to move the runner to second followed by another single brought the tying run across the plate.

Snyder, who went 4 – 5 with two doubles and two RBI, lead off the ninth inning with a double deep to left center. He was replaced by pinch runner, Caleb Shelton. Harrison was intentionally walked…again to put runners at first and second. Jordan Richardson came to the plate and laid down a perfect bunt, scoring Shelton all the way from second, with what would be the winning run.

Harrison pitched into the eighth inning, getting the first two outs before Logan Boente came in to close the door and pick up the win.