O'FALLON — Efficiency on the pitching mound proved to be the difference in Tuesday's Southwestern Conference opener between the Alton Redbirds and O'Fallon Panthers at Blazier Field.
O'Fallon senior Bradley Harrison, bound for Southern Illinois University Carbondale next season, was on his game Tuesday, guiding his Panthers past the Redbirds 5-0.
With the loss Alton dipped to 5-3 overall and 0-1 in the SWC. O'Fallon improved to 8-1 and 1-0 with the victory.
Harrison threw the complete game shutout, fanning 11, walking one and surrendering two hits on 74 pitches.
“Strike one is a big emphasis and I think it should be an emphasis in every program and it certainly is in ours,” O'Fallon head coach Jason Portz said. “He had command of all of his pitches today and was getting a lot of swing and misses and was really able to command the zone. He has the potential to do that. That's as good an outing as he can have and I'm real happy with his approach. He’s been outstanding every time out this year and he continues to work at his game.”
Getting ahead in the count was an issue for the Redbirds. Starting pitcher Sam Ballard showed good stuff Tuesday, but worked behind in the count to many of the batters he faced.
Ballard — who is committed to Illinois-Chicago — took the loss, tossing 3.2 innings, striking out three, walking five, scattering four hits and allowing five runs, four earned on 94 pitches. Two of his walks were intentional ones to Harrison.
“When you’re pitching ahead, it allows you to do other things,” AHS head coach Todd Haug said. “When you’re pitching ahead, it allows you to go deeper in ballgames. Oftentimes, we feel like we’re behind the eight-ball, our pitchers are constantly 2-1, 3-1. We saw that a lot tonight.
“I didn’t think Ballard threw bad tonight. He worked his way out of few jams and he showed good velocity. He cut down on his walks. We’ll bounce back. This is a learning experience for us.”
Haug just thought the Birds ran into the ace of the Panthers when everything was clicking for him.
“The name of the game tonight was the pitching side of things,” Haug said. “We ran into a really good pitcher. You go on the road in the Southwestern Conference, this is what you’re going to expect. You've got to protect your home turf and play tough at home. He’s their horse and he was on his game today.”
O'Fallon threatened early, loading the bases in the first and second innings, but came away empty both times.
In the first with the bases loaded Ballard was able to get Joe Guithues to ground to third and Alton's Steven Nguyen fired home to get the force out. Ballard then fanned Camden Bauer looking to get out of the inning.
In the second an error, an infield single and a walk filled the bags full of Panthers, but Ballard got Josh Gibson to fly out and induced a ground ball to get the final out and keep it scoreless.
“Those were missed opportunities but I don't feel we took poor at-bats,” Portz said. “That's going to happen sometimes and certainly we should have come through big, but one thing in that scenario is you don't want guys to press too hard. There are a lot of outs left in the baseball game and I don't think our guys did.”
O'Fallon broke through in the third. Harrison led off with a single through the middle, was sacrificed to second and moved to third on a groundout before scoring on an Alton error to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead. It was one of four errors on the day by the Redbirds.
O'Fallon then tacked on four more runs in the fourth inning. All of its runs came with two outs in the game.
The Birds had just five base runners in the game. Aaron Bonnell poked a first-inning single and Ballard singled in the fourth. Nguyen coaxed the only Harrison walk in the third and Ryan Boyd and Noah Rathgeb each reached via drop third strikes in the third also.
Devin Colley and Jon Witt contributed scoreless work out of the bullpen for AHS, too.
Now the Redbirds turn their attention to opening their new baseball field. The beautiful new facility on the campus of Alton High in Godfrey will be the site for a 4:30 p.m. game between the Birds and Freeport on Wednesday. Haug is happy to finally showcase the pristine field.
“The field itself, like any coach that takes care of a ball field, it's a living, breathing creature and every day presents new obstacles, but it's our responsibility now,” Haug said. “We're not reliant on anyone else but ourselves to get the field ready, we're proud to be on campus, we're proud of the field they've given us and hopefully we put on a good show.
“When you build a field literally from scratch, we've got a lot of things to accomplish.”
O'FALLON 5, ALTON 0
Redbirds 000 000 0 — 0 2 4
Panthers 001 400 X — 5 5 0
Alton (5-3) — Steven Nguyen 0-2 BB, Aaron Bonnell 1-3, Sam Ballard 1-3.
LP — Ballard 3.2IP 4H 5R 4ER 5BB 3K
Devin Colley 1.2IP 1H 0R 0ER 1BB 0K
Jon Witt 0.2IP 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 0K
O'Fallon (8-1) — Dillon Weiss 0-2 2 BBs, Josh Gibson 1-4 2B, Brad Snyder 1-4 RBI, Bradley Harrison 1-2 2 IBBs, Joe Guithues 1-2 SAC SB RBI, Camden Bauer 0-3 BB, Jordan Richardson 1-3 RBI, Jared Dalonzo 1-2 BB SB.
WP — Harrison 7.0IP 2H 0R 0ER 1BB 11K