ST. JOSEPH — With its 2-0 victory Monday over St. Joseph-Ogden, the undefeated Paxton-Buckley-Loda baseball team made a statement.
“It proves we’re a pretty good team,” PBL senior Andrew Zenner said. “People were saying, ‘I don’t know how good the teams are that we played so far,’ and we came out and won this one. Other schools knows now that we’re pretty good here.”
With the win, the Panthers improved to 13-0 while the Spartans fell to 13-4.
“I’m really excited about them. This is a really even-keeled team. Everybody on our team knew this was a big game for us, but nobody acted like it was bigger than any other game of the year,” PBL head coach Rick Johnson said. “They know you’ve still got to go one pitch and one out at a time. I’m excited for them. They’re a good bunch of guys. They work hard. Right now, we’re putting the pieces together, and it’s working out for us.
In his previous two starts, Zenner (3-0) reached the double-digit strikeout mark. Against SJ-O, he pitched a one-hit shutout, fanning seven batters with just one walk.
“The defense stepped up. I didn’t have as many strikeouts as I usually do, but that’s fine,” Zenner said. “The defense came out and played really well today. I’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”
The Spartans’ Austin Cain hit a one-out double in the first inning before Colton Hale and Brant Hoveln each grounded out to end the inning. In the fifth inning, Jesse Schluter reached base on an error before a 1-6-3 double play ended the inning.
“That’s what PBL baseball is all about – pitching and defense. It worked today,” Johnson said. “That’s what’s been carrying us all year.”
Despite an eight-strikeout performance from Mason Coon, he took the loss and left after a fifth inning in which PBL scored an insurance run and drew four of Coon’s seven walks.
“Mason wasn’t sharp today. He was a little erratic there in the middle innings,” SJ-O head coach Josh Haley said.
Coon allowed three hits through his five innings of work.
“He didn’t have his best stuff, but at the same time, he gave us a chance to win the ballgame,” Haley said.
Coon started the game retiring six of his first nine batters and struck out the side in the second inning.
“He’s a good pitcher, too," Zenner said. "He came out and threw strikes and got a lot of guys out as well. It was just an all-around good defensive game from both teams.”
In the second inning, Marty Wright grounded out for SJ-O, Zenner struck out Eli Place, who went down swining at a 3-2 pitch. Jesse Schluter struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch.
Drew Coursey grounded out to lead off the bottom of the third inning before Zenner struck out Tyler Langendorf. After Zenner hit Coon with a 1-2 pitch to put Coon on base, Cain lined out to Luis Rodriguez in left field.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Zenner caught Colton Hale looking at strike three on a full count. Hoveln grounded out before Wright struck out swinging at a 1-2 pitch.
Prior to the fifth-inning double play, Zenner caught Place looking at strike three on a full count.
Langendorf went down swinging on a 2-2 pitch to lead off the sixth inning and Coon grounded out before Cain walked. Hale hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning. Hoveln and Wright each grounded out in the seventh inning before Place hit a line drive that was caught by Cooper Johnson at the second-baseman position.
“Andrew threw well for them. He came at us," Haley said. "I thought he made some pitches when he had to with guys on base, and we came up on the short end of the stick there. We had opportunities to score, and weren’t able to punch one or two (runs) through.”
The Panthers scored the go-ahead run in the third inning as Keaton Krumwiede walked and Dalton Coplea singled to right field before Cole Eshleman smacked a 1-2 pitch into center field for an RBI base hit.
PBL's bats produced four hits, one each by Coplea, Eshleman, Kaleb Denault and Luke Fitton.
“It’s always somebody different every time with this team," Johnson said. "You can’t just key in on one guy.”
In the fifth inning, Fitton drove in PBL’s insurance run via a bases-loaded, one-out sacrifice fly ball to center field after Cooper Johnson, Zenner and Denault each drew a one-out walk to load the bases.
“It was funny because when Luke came up, I gave him the suicide (squeeze bunt) signal, and I wiped it off, and he kind of smiled like, ‘OK, you’re going to let me swing the bat,’” Johnson said.
The Panthers also had the bases loaded with one out in the top of the fourth inning as Fitton singled, Jaxson Coplea reached base on an error and Rodriguez walked. They would be left stranded, however, as Coon struck out Krumwiede and Dalton Coplea.
The Panthers finished the game with nine runners left on base while SJ-O left three runners stranded.
"I thought about squeezing when we had Keaton Krumwiede up with the bases loaded with one out, but we didn’t. We let him swing the bat," Johnson said. "Luckily, as the game evolved, Luke came through with situational hitting. That’s all we needed. He picked us up.”
The Panthers' game against SJ-O was the first of a five-games-in-five-days stretch.
PBL will travel to Cissna Park on Tuesday before hosting Monticello on Wednesday, Cissna Park on Thursday, Bismarck-Henning on Friday and Rantoul next Monday. The Panthers will travel to Dwight for a Sangamon Valley Conference contest on Tuesday, April 25.
“Hopefully, we can get a chance to win the week,” Johnson said. “That’s our goal — to win the week. We’ve been doing it so far. We’ve got a busy week, but that’s the way we like it. We’ll keep it rolling.”
SJ-O, meanwhile, faces Okaw Valley Conference opponent Rantoul on Tuesday.
“We just need to have a short memory and come back and play tomorrow,” Haley said. “We played a good ballgame today. We just have to come back ready to go tomorrow.”
PBL 2, St. Joseph-Ogden 0
PBL 001 010 0 — 2 4 1
SJO 000 000 0 — 0 1 2
W — Andrew Zenner (3-0), 7 IP, H, 0 ER, 7 K, BB. L — Mason Coon, 5 IP 3 H, 2 ER, 8 K, 7 BB.
PBL (13-0) -- Dalton Coplea 1-4. Cole Eshleman 1-4, RBI. Kaleb Denault 1-3. Luke Fitton 1-3, RBI.
SJ-O (13-4) -- Austin Cain 1-2, 2B.