When Westminster captured its first state championship last June in Springfield, it looked like the Wildcats would have a chance to repeat.
But when coach Rich Van Gilst’s squad lost three of its first six games this season, Westminster’s Springfield-or-bust hopes for the 2012 season looked a little shaky. The Wildcats have eliminated those concerns by winning 14 consecutive games and establishing themselves as the team to beat once again in Class 3.
“It’s come a long way since the beginning of the year,” senior center fielder Tate Matheny said. “I was a little nervous, because I didn’t know how the camaraderie would be. I wasn’t real sure. But we’ve come a long way. I really, really enjoy this group of guys, and I really think there’s something special here, and I think we can make a run at this.”
Westminster (17-3), which has three sophomores in its regular lineup, is winning games with a mix of strong pitching, offense and defense.
“At the beginning of the year the team really wasn’t clicking,” senior third baseman Luke Turner said. “We were kind of playing as individuals. But lately, once we’ve got on this winning streak, we’ve really come together. Even guys that are slumping are cheering everybody on, and everybody is pulling for each other.”
A Missouri State recruit, Matheny is hitting .619 with nine triples, seven home runs, 32 RBI, 37 runs scored, 13 stolen bases and a .707 on-base percentage. Turner, a four-year starter, is batting .443 with 20 RBI. Sophomore shortstop Shane Benes is hitting .412 with 10 doubles, two triples, two homers and 34 RBI.
Junior lefthander Ben Lovell is 6-0 with a 0.62 earned-run average in 34 innings. Junior right-hander Ben Mitchell is 4-1 with a 1.91 ERA. Junior southpaw Davis Vanderslice is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA. Junior righty Mark McFarland (1-0, 0.51) has two saves.
“Part of it is we go down to Florida and we become a team,” Lovell said. “Through losses and through all of this, it’s 'Lets be a team.' No one superstar can walk in and blow every team away. We have to play as a team. That’s what we’ve been doing. We play as a team.”
Matheny said every player has been ready for every game.
“It’s everybody trying to do their part and nobody trying to do too much,” he said. “That’s the main thing. It’s everybody’s playing their best. It makes it easy when everybody is hitting well. It’s not one or two or three people, it’s everybody doing their part.”
MATHENY WINS RISING STAR AWARD
Matheny is having another big season after being a Post-Dispatch first-team All-Metro selection as a sophomore and a junior. Last week he was honored with the Rising Star Award from the St. Louis Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
The other finalists were Lafayette shortstop William DuPont, Parkway South center fielder Danny Holst, O’Fallon pitcher Sam Hopkins, Vianney second baseman Jake Walters and Crystal City pitcher Alex Winkelman.
“It meant a lot that I got chosen out of those guys, because there were a lot of kids there who can flat play,” Matheny said. “All of those guys can do some damage. They are all some real good players. I guess there’s a reason they saw something in me they didn’t see in them. I’m happy, and I’m humbled by that. So I have to continue to do what I’m doing, and hopefully we’ll keep winning.”
O’Fallon, which has won the last two Southwestern Conference championships, has put itself in position to win a third straight and fourth in seven seasons.
The Panthers (18-6 overall, 8-1 SWC) had won four straight and 10 of their last 11 games going into a Tuesday showdown at Edwardsville. O’Fallon is averaging 6.1 runs per game, which ranks second in the league behind Edwardsville (6.7), but allowing a league-low 2.1.
“We knew we had the ability to improve as a team, and I think (the players) have been really acceptable to coaching, and they’re just getting better every day,” coach Jason Portz said. “That’s all we’re trying to do — come to the park every day and improve as a team. Each player is working hard to improve his individual skills.”
The pitching staff has led the way behind senior right-hander Sam Hopkins (5-1, 2 saves, 0.85 ERA) and junior righty Ethan Wild (7-0, 0.89). Senior shortstop Logan Reno (.409, 13 RBI, 18 runs), sophomore infielder Jeff Hahs (.379, 1 HR, 14 RBI), senior outfielder Cory Beyersdorfer (.347, 12 RBI) and Hopkins (15 RBI) have paced the offense.
PACIFIC TAKES FIRST LOSS
Pacific had its 14-game season-opening win streak snapped with a 7-5 loss to Pattonville in Farmington on Friday. The Pirates used a six-run third inning to take control and strong relief pitching from Keith McAllister and Luke Izold to close it out.
Pacific (16-1), which has a big non-conference game Thursday against visiting Timberland (12-6), is averaging 8.8 runs and allowing 1.5.
The senior pitching duo of lefty Josh Moore (7-0, 1.44) and righty Andrew David (5-0, 1 save, 0.88) has been outstanding. David (.500, 9 doubles, 2 triples, 1 home run, 15 RBI) and sophomore outfielder Hank Vandaveer (.456, 17 RBI) have led the way offensively.
LUTHERAN SOUTH A TEAM TO WATCH
Lutheran South looks like a contender to make a run to Springfield in the Class 3 tournament.
Coach Steve Pfund’s Lancers, who lost to Westminster 2-0 on Monday, are 16-5 with just three losses against teams from Missouri. They lost to De Soto on March 31 and have lost to reigning Class 3 champ Westminster twice by a combined five runs.
“The season as a whole has gone real well,” Pfund said. “I think we still haven’t played our best baseball, which is good, because we’re getting better every day. We’ll start peaking here in the next couple weeks as we get into districts. It’s been a good season. Different guys have stepped up at different times. Pitching’s been good. Defense for the most part has been good. We’ll see what happens over the next few weeks. It should be fun.”
Senior Sam Gieg has been one of the area’s top catchers and has anchored South’s lineup from the cleanup spot, hitting .463 with 10 doubles, two triples, one home run and 27 RBI. The pitching staff has been strong with senior Ryan Strohm (5-3, 1 save, 2.40) and sophomores Brandon Downey (6-0, 1.30) and Dirk Otterstein (2-0, 1.29).