Panthers streaking through playoffs, beating Missouri's best baseball teams
June 01, 2005 - When the Mehlville Senior High baseball team recently won the District No. 3 championship with a 4-0 victory over defending state champion Vianney, some considered it a fluke.
|Mehlville catcher Clayton Camp, above, blocks Parkway South's Jake Hender-son (42) from sliding in to the plate as the Panthers advanced 4-3 to the state's elite eight in Class 4A sectional play.|
|Mehlville pitcher Jake Morgan (7), below, slides safely into second base as Parkway South shortstop Nick Peterson is forced to come off the bag and chase an errant throw. Morgan scored to tie the game 3-3 two batters later. Two days later, Mehlville defeated Eureka 5-2 in the state quarterfinal, sending the Panthers to the Final Four in Columbia.|
Then the Panthers scratched their way to a 4-3 win over Parkway South in the state sectional game and once again, no one knew how they could beat a talented Patriot squad twice in one season.
And the Panthers (18-9, 3-4 Suburban West) continued their shock-and-awe campaign last week, rallying from a two-run deficit to defeat Eureka 5-2 in the state quarterfinal and earn their first trip to the Final Four since 1984.
"This is by far the biggest win in at least the past 21 years at Mehlville," head coach Jim Kern told the Call. "We got down 2-0 after the second inning and we talked to the guys about not giving up. We ended up scoring three runs in the next inning."
While the Panthers seem to be thriving on the role of underdog, Kern knew he had a talented group at the start of the season.
"I thought that we were one of the better teams in the area," Kern said. "Our goal was that if we could get to sectionals, we could make it to Columbia."
That they did behind a gutsy performance from starting pitcher Mike Zeller, who shut the door on Eureka after allowing two runs in the second. Zeller gave up just two runs on five hits in five innings, striking out four and walking five in his sixth win of the season. He's 6-3 overall with a 3.32 earned run average.
"Mike threw good enough to keep us in the game," Kern said. "He probably was not hitting his spots like he normally does, but he kept their batters off balance. He ended up competing and that's what kept us in the game."
Senior Jake Morgan relieved Zeller in the sixth inning and completely shut down the Wildcats at the plate, allowing just one hit in two innings pitched. Morgan struck out two and walked one in his third save of the season. He's 6-3 overall with a 1.49 earned run average.
Morgan has been invaluable to the Pan-thers' postseason success. He shut down Eureka after throwing a complete game to beat Parkway South two days earlier in the state sectional. He then sparked the Panthers' offense against Eureka, driving in Mehl-ville's first run on a fielder's choice play.
"He (Morgan) is an unbelievable competitor that's doing everything he can to win," Kern said. "Jake ended up coming in during the sixth inning and threw very well."
Sophomore third baseman Tom Case drove in the team's second run in the top of the third, and Mehlville quickly took a 3-2 lead when Eureka's third baseman couldn't handle a hot shot off the bat of senior short-stop Steve Braun.
"I think that Steve hit the ball hard three straight times and because of the way he hits, we knew that eventually the ball would get into play," Kern said. "Statistically, he didn't do very well, but I think he'll have different numbers next week."
Tony Maus added insurance, driving in runs in the fifth and seventh innings to ex-tend Mehlville's lead to 5-2. Maus was 1-3 with two runs batted in.
"Tony not only had two big RBIs in the game, he also had a play at first in the fourth inning on a hit that was down the right field line," Kern said. "He then tagged first (base) and I think that really helped us win the game. Those two RBI were insurance runs to win the game."
The Panthers take on DeSmet in the state semifinal game at 11 a.m. Friday at Taylor Stadium on the campus of the University of Missouri in Columbia.
DeSmet recorded a decisive 9-3 victory over Mehlville on April 19. It was the final game of a five-game losing streak in which the Panthers were outscored 32-13. Mehl-ville went on to win five of their next six games.
"They (DeSmet) are a very good team that has good speed, good pitching and they also hit the ball very well," Kern said. "We'll pitch Morgan and that puts everybody in the position that they always play. When Jake's out on the mound, his confident demeanor helps everyone else out in the field.