When the Mehlville Senior High School baseball team reached the championship game of the Class 4 District 3 Tournament, it appeared the Panthers were hitting their stride after losing six of their last seven games to end the regular season.
“I think that the kids were as frustrated as I was throughout the season,” Mehlville head coach Bob Kern told the Call. “We finally had that focus that we had been lacking all year and began clicking all together at the end of the season.”
Mehlville (11-16, 3-4 Suburban West) pulled off an 8-3 win over St. Mary’s in the district quarterfinal and a 12-8 victory over Oakville in the district semifinal to reach the title game. But the Panthers’ bats went quiet against Vianney as the Golden Griffins pulled out a 3-0 win to capture the district championship.
Though Kern would have liked to have won the district championship, he also recognized that his core of seniors took charge in the final games of the season.
“We would have liked to get one more win,” Kern said. “I think that there was that element of finality for these seniors that said: ‘This is not the way we want to go out.'”
Mehlville starting pitcher Ethan Stenger gave up three runs on six hits in 42⁄3 innings. Stenger also walked two and struck out three batters in his fourth loss of the season.
The junior starting pitcher finished the season with a record of 2-4 with an earned-run average of 4.82.
“Ethan did a great job against Vianney,” Kern said. “He had gotten into the game against Oakville and he seemed rattled. He went out on Thursday (May 17) as the same kid we’ve seen all season. He came out confident and did everything he needed to do to keep us in the game.”
Barry Gregg relieved Stenger in the fifth inning and gave up just one hit in 12⁄3 innings. The senior hurler walked one batter and struck out two in his 10th appearance of the season.
“Barry was coming off a complete-game win on Monday and we were not sure how long he would be able to go,” Kern said. “He came out and challenged their hitters.”
Mehlville infielder Tom Case’s two-hit performance ac-counted for half of the Panthers’ hits, which helped bring the senior’s batting average to .377 with 21 runs batted in.
“Tom was incredibly important for us offensively this past week,” Kern said. “He came up with a few big hits and was very solid and consistent for us in that four hole.”
The Panthers will lose eight seniors as Bill Cartee, Tom Case, Adam DuBuque, Barry Gregg, Kevin Mahler, Joel Murphy, Jason Nikolaisen and Gary Schiwinger graduate this week. But Kern is optimistic about his team’s outlook for the 2008 season.
“I think that next year is going to be exciting,” he said. “We’re going to lose a talented group of seniors that were a big part of this program. But we’ve got some guys coming up that have experienced success and are willing to work hard.”