JOLIET — O'Fallon High senior shortstop Garrett Meyer knew there would be better days ahead.
The Panthers sported a .500 record in early May. They were on the fast track to nowhere.
But he kept the faith.
So did his teammates.
"We believed in ourselves and knew the potential was there," Meyer said.
That potential led O'Fallon on a magical run that finally came to an end Saturday.
Lake Park pushed across a run in the bottom of the eighth inning to squeeze past O'Fallon 6-5 in a Class 4A baseball semifinal at Silver Cross Field in Will County.
O'Fallon (26-10) bounced back with a 6-4 victory against Rockton Hononegah to notch its third third-place state tournament finish, also achieving that feat in 2006 and 2009.
"A one-run game in extra innings to go to the state championship," O'Fallon coach Joe Bauer said. "You couldn't ask for more — the chances were there."
The Panthers rallied from a two-run deficit to score twice in the seventh inning.
But a couple of mistakes down the stretch spelled the difference.
"It wasn't our best effort," Bauer said. "We showed our youth, we showed our inexperience a little bit. Too many strikeouts, too many errors. Things we haven't done the last month and a half."
The Panthers struck out 15 times. They made three fielding errors and a costly baserunning miscue.
Meyer went 3-for-3 and beat out an infield hit during the game-tying rally.
"We didn't give up," Meyer said. "Stuff happens. You don't always get what you want."
O'Fallon went down fighting. Meyer and junior right-handed pitcher Mike Larson led the way with gutsy performances. Larson gave up five runs, just two earned, on three hits and battled to keep his team in the game. Meyer paced a six-hit attack.
"Our kids competed," Bauer said. "You don't have to like the outcome. It came down to a couple of inches here and there. I'm sure there are teams the last four or five weeks that we've stolen one from."
O'Fallon bolted in front with three runs in the top of the second. Kellen Scruggs banged a double to left to begin the uprising. He eventually came around on a throwing error. Kendall Brookings, who singled, tallied the final run on a wild pitch. Xavier Deatherage and Ethan Crouse also walked during the frame.
Lake Park (33-4), which is located in the Chicago suburb of Roselle, answered with two runs in the bottom of the inning and then scored three times in the fifth to go up 5-3. The Lancers broke a 3-3 tie when two runners scampered home on the same wild pitch.
Down to their last at-bat, the Panthers muscled two runs across on two walks, a wild pitch and Meyer's single.
"I knew we wouldn't quit," said Meyer, who hopes to gain some interest and play baseball in college.
Meyer bounced back to make a nifty defensive play in the opening inning of the third-place game, throwing out a runner from deep in the hole.
"There's a lot of teams that would like to be where we are," Meyer said. "This group is like my family and I'm so proud of them."