GODFREY — Alton coach Todd Haug said the O’Fallon Panthers needed a stroke of perfection to beat the Redbirds on Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers got the required play at the right time in the championship game of the Class 4A Alton Regional.
They can thank left fielder Hayden Schaefer for it. He threw out Alton pinch-runner Matt McDonald at the plate to complete a game-ending double play and preserve O’Fallon’s 2-1 victory.
The 32-5 Panthers, defeating the Redbirds for the third time this season, advanced to the semifinals of the Illinois Wesleyan Sectional. They meet Belleville West on Thursday at Edwardsville's Tom Pile Field at a time yet to be determined. The Redbirds closed the season at 23-13.
“It was an outstanding game,” O’Fallon coach Jason Portz said. “I can’t be prouder of our guys and how they competed.”
Neither could Haug. He said they battled O’Fallon, the Southwestern Conference champion, to the wire.
“This group gave everything they had,” he said of the Redbirds, notably the 14 seniors. “It’s an outstanding group and one that is on the path to greatness.”
The Birds thought they might be on the path to a sectional semifinal during an eventful seventh inning. They finally scored a run against O’Fallon ace Bradley Harrison, who improved to 12-0 with a 4-hitter.
Steven Pattan provided a one-out RBI single and broke Harrison’s scoreless streak of 20.1 innings against the Redbirds this season. They had runners on first and third with one out and threatened to tie the game or take the lead.
Left-handed hitter Seth Boschert battled Harrison before he hit a fly ball to shallow left field and near the foul line. Haug, coaching third base, sent the pinch runner McDonald home.
That’s when Scahefer rose to the occasion. He fired a strike to O’Fallon catcher Chase Hackstadt and he tagged out McDonald to end the game.
“I wouldn’t change a thing,” Haug said of the frenzied finish. “McDonald is the fastest guy on the field, so they (Panthers) have to make the perfect play or the game is tied.
“You do what you do and trust you do it well enough. In every single game that we played this season, we would have sent him in that situation.”
Portz expected the Redbirds to go for it.
“When you are the visiting team and trailing, you have to gamble,” he said. “So it didn’t surprise me when they sent him. Hayden (Schaefer) did what he was asked to do in practice. It’s a credit to him and our catcher because it’s not a guaranteed throw and out in that situation.”’
Schaefer, who went 2-for-3, said: “We practice that play a lot and I knew they (Redbirds) were going to try and push it. So it’s definitely my biggest thrill in baseball.”
Aaron Bonnell went 2-for-3 with a pair of singles to pace the Redbirds. His second one came after Robbie Taul walked to lead off the seventh. Jacob Kanallakan bunted along the runners and Pattan singled to center to score Taul before the game-ending double play.
“It was a great team win because anything can happen in a tight game during the postseason,” Portz said.
Harrison, bound for SIUC, led the way with his pitching and hitting. The left-hander slammed a solo home run over the right field fence off Alton reliever Sam Ballard in the fifth to stretch O’Fallon’s lead to 2-0. Jared Dalonzo’s RBI single off Alton starter Jacob St. Peters in the third supplied the game’s first run. St. Peters went 2.2 innings after working 4 innings Thursday against Quincy.
“That was my biggest home run of the season,” Harrison said
Portz added, “I’ll bet when their coaching staff goes back and looks at it, they’ll wish they wouldn’t have pitched to him.”
No regrets, Haug said. The Redbirds gave it their all.
“I don’t know how much more this group could have done,” he said. “We went toe-to-toe with an outstanding team. I think that shows we have an outstanding club as well.”
He pointed out, “It’s a deep, mature group and a close-knit one that helped build our new field. It’s also one of the winningest classes in Redbird history."
CLASS 4A ALTON REGIONAL
O’FALLON 2, ALTON 1
Alton 000 000 1 – 1 4 1
O’Fallon 001 010 X – 2 7 0
Alton (23-13) — Aaron Bonnell 2-3, Steven Pattan 2-3 RBI. LP 00 Jacob St. Peters IP-2.2 H-3 R-1 ER-1 BB-0 K-1; Sam Ballard IP-0 H-1 R-1 ER-1 BB-0 K-0; Devin Colley IP-3.1 H-3 R-0 BB-2 K-3
O’Fallon (32-5) — Dillon Weiss 1-3, Jared Dalonzo 1-3 RBI, Bradley Snyder 1-3, Brad Harrison 1-2 HR RBI, Hayden Schaefer 2-3, Chase Hackstadt 1-2. WP – Harrison IP-7 H-4 R-1 ER-1 BB-2 K-7