Mehlville keeps Flyers ‘off balance’ with 7-4 victory in district semifinals

By Stephen Glover

When the District No. 2 baseball tournament started last week, not many people were looking for the Mehlville Senior High School Panthers to make it past their semifinal match against St. Mary’s.

In fact, the Panthers (14-14, 7-7 Suburban West) had lost four of their last six games and appeared to be limping into the playoffs.

Oh how things quickly can change.

The Panthers slipped by St. Mary’s 1-0 on a three-hit performance by junior starting pitcher Jake Morgan.

Mehlville had the daunting task of facing Suburban West Conference champion Lindbergh in the semifinal.

The two teams were more than familiar with each other as they split in their two-game series this season. But good ol’ Mother Nature thought that it would be interesting to throw in a rainout or two.

Those two days gave the Panthers enough time to start Morgan again on the mound as he threw a solid seven innings pitched with three earned runs on seven hits in Mehlville’s 7-4 victory over the Flyers.

“We just kept plugging away and getting runs when we could,” Mehlville head coach Jim Kern told the Call. “Jake kept Lindbergh off balance and kept them from hitting the ball as hard as they did in our first two games against them this season.”

The true fireworks of the game came from junior shortstop Steve Braun, who slammed a home run in the first at-bat of the game, which energized the Mehlville bench.

“With Steve starting off the game with a home run, it really got us off to a good start,” Kern said.

The Panthers were not able to match their semifinal performance in the championship game as they suffered a 5-3 setback against Vianney.

Mehlville found itself down 5-1 after the second inning, but trimmed the lead to 5-3 after the bottom of the fourth. Vianney’s Jim Klocke came into the game in the fourth inning and held the Panthers to just one run on three hits.

“I thought we ended up playing well enough to beat them,” Kern said.

“After the second inning, we were down 5-1, but I still thought that we could have scored enough runs to win the game. The kids put themselves in a situation to win the game. Things just didn’t come through for us.”

Mehlville sophomore starting pitcher Mike Zeller took the loss as he lasted two innings, while giving up five earned runs on six hits. Zeller finished the season with a record of 4-2 and a 6.46 earned-run average.

“He (Zeller) threw the ball well that day,” Kern said. “I just think that as a team, we didn’t help him out in any way during the second inning. I think it was as frustrating for him as everyone else on the team.”

Junior left fielder Tony Maus was a stellar 4-4 at the plate with one run batted in. Maus finished the season with a .476 batting average with 12 RBI.

Senior catcher Eric Tripp was also solid at the plate with a 3-4 performance with 2 RBI. Tripp rounded out his high school career with a .324 batting average with three home runs and 20 RBI.

“Tony has been probably one of our most consistent hitters throughout the year,” Kern said. “Eric was one of our senior leaders who kept us focused throughout the year. He caught every inning of every game this year for us.”

The Panthers lose six seniors to graduation, which means they’ll return at least 11 players from this year’s roster for next season.

Kern believes that the success of the 2004 Panthers is due to the hard work ethic of seniors like Tripp, Tony Allen, Brett Fallert, Ryan Hibdon, Mike Loechel, Dan Marchi.

“I think I’m going to have to give all the credit of the attitude change to all of our seniors,” Kern said. “All of them were very positive throughout the year and kept everyone’s head up. They kept reminding us that we can win and that we should be able to win.

“These kids need to see the difference that the seniors made and pick up next season from where they left off,” he added.