O'FALLON, Ill. • Jeff Hahs was “that guy” Thursday afternoon for the O'Fallon baseball team.
Hahs, a sophomore right-hander, pitched out of a self-made bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth then delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the inning as the Panthers rallied for a 5-4 win over Alton in a Southwestern Conference game at Blazier Field in O'Fallon City Park.
O'Fallon, No. 10 in the STLhighschoolsports large-schools rankings and the two-time conference defending champion, improved to 11-5 overall and a league-best 5-1. Alton, No. 8 in the large-schools rankings, fell to 13-3, 4-2.
“It's Jeff,” Panthers coach Jason Portz said. “He's that guy who comes out and give you that great effort every day. He's going to go to the plate and give up at-bats. Obviously, he went early there and saw fastball and went and got it. He's just coming along every day.”
Hahs (2-0) relieved Kyle Wilson in the eighth after Wilson walked leadoff batter and No. 9 hitter Nyles Spurgeon. Hahs caught Ron Wisnasky looking at a third strike and O'Fallon catcher Eli Blecha threw Spurgeon out at second on a steal attempt for a double play. Lawrence Moore III then struck out swinging to end the inning.
Then in the top of the ninth after leadoff hitter Brent Gibbs flied out to left, Shane Matthews got an infield single to short and Nick Droste followed with an infield single to second as Matthews stopped at second.
Jordan Bodenbach grounded to shortstop Logan Reno, who threw to third to get a sliding Matthews for the second out as Droste went to second. Hahs walked Luke Edwards to load the bases, but Hahs got pinch hitter Clint Cress to bounce out to short to end the inning.
“It was kind of hard to keep my nerves down because when they got the bases loaded in the top of the ninth, it was kind of hard for me,” Hahs said. “I just told myself 'don't make any stupid pitches and just throw strikes. Get the out.'”
Which he did setting the stage for his heroics in the bottom of the frame. With Charlie Howard (5-1) relieving Tanner Miles and one out, Sam Hopkins laid down a perfect bunt down the third base line for a single.
Reno was intentionally walked, bringing Hahs to the plate. He laced the first pitch he saw from Howard to center for the game-winner as Hopkins slid head first across the plate.
“Third baseman was playing back and we needed a base runner,” said Hopkins, who started for the Panthers and gave up four runs (two earned). “Coach (Portz) gave me the sign and told me to think about it. We practice that everyday. It's something that's pretty much expected.”
The game was an extra-inning affair after O'Fallon blew a 4-0 lead when the Redbirds plated four in the top of the seventh off Hopkins and Wilson on three singles, three errors and two walks.
The Panthers got their runs in the fourth on two doubles and three walks off starter Ray Bailey and Miles.
“It's April,” Alton coach Todd Haug said. “This doesn't define us and it doesn't define our season. It's a game in April. We'll be playing our best ball in May. That's the bottom line. This is not a sprint. The conference chase is a marathon. We'll be there in the end.”