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Mehlville beats defending state champs to capture first district title in 20 years

May 25, 2005 - What a difference two years can make for a baseball team.

Two years ago, Mehlville Senior High struggled to a 3-19 record and now they're district champions.

The Panthers (16-9, 3-4 Suburban West) shutout defending Class 4 state champion Vianney 4-0 in eight innings last week to claim the District 3 championship, their first since 1985.

"It was obviously a big win for our program," Mehlville head coach Jim Kern told the Call. "I think it has a lot to do with the kids that we have. Last year was a big step for us in that we stopped having teams that expected to lose."

Starting pitcher Mike Zeller held Vi-anney scoreless in 7 2/3 innings. The junior hurler walked two and struck out seven in his fifth win of the season. He's 5-3 with a 3.38 earned run average.

"Rather than overpowering people, he tried to hit his spots and let the defense work behind him," Kern said. "He got Vi-anney out 1-2-3 in the bottom of the seventh and that really changed the momentum for us. Mike threw a great game."

Senior reliever Jake Morgan recorded the final out and earned the save, pitching 1/3 of an inning to preserve the win. Morgan is 5-3 with two saves and a 1.48 earned run average.

"Jake actually threw a complete game the day before against Oakville," Kern said. "We really like our chances when he's out there on the mound."

Zeller and Vianney starting pitcher Josh Syberg dueled for seven scoreless innings until the Panthers put four runs on the scoreboard in the eighth inning.

Panther third baseman Tom Case snapped the deadlock with the game's first RBI.

Since moving to the No. 2 spot in the batting order, Case has produced some key hits at the plate.

"We ended up moving him to the second hole in the lineup and his average has not been indicative of how he's been hitting the ball," Kern said. "He came up with some big hits for us this year."

First baseman Tony Maus smacked a shot into the gap in right-center to give the Panthers two more runs and a 3-0 lead. Maus is batting .357 with 24 runs batted in.

"Tony hit a ball to right center that was about two feet from going out of the park," Kern said. "He had two good at bats before that by hitting the ball hard."

Sophomore left fielder Kevin Mahler drove in Maus to give Panthers a 4-0 cushion. Mahler has a .328 batting average with 15 runs batted in.

"Kevin keeps getting strong as the year goes by," Kern said. "He's gotten some really key hits for us this year."

The Panthers battle Parkway South at home in the state sectional game at 4:30 p.m. today — May 26.

The Patriots are 16-9 overall and won the District 4 championship with a 2-0 win against Lafayette.

Mehlville and Parkway South met on April 25 and the Panthers grabbed a 2-0 win behind Morgan's complete game shutout.

"They (Parkway South) will have well-above-average pitching and they have scrappy hitters that drive in runs," Kern noted. "The 2-0 game could have easily been theirs and they're not a team that can be taken lightly. They're playing very well right now."

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