The air was heavy with humidity, and the drama was just as thick, as our O’Connor baseball Panthers battled the Stevens Falcons for the district championship Friday night at Northside Stadium. In the end, it was all pitching and defense as the Panthers pulled out a 1-0 victory to win the District 28-5A title for the second year in a row, finishing with a 14-2 district record.
Once again it was O’Connor senior Mark McGraw battling Stevens’ Rene Solis in a strong pitching duel, their second such matchup this season. McGraw finished the night with 10 big strikeouts and allowed only a bouncing single up the middle late in the game, narrowly missing a no-hitter. In the first inning, Panther 3rd baseman T.J. Greene reached second on a Falcons throwing error. McGraw followed with a looping double to left, scoring Greene for what would prove to be the only run of the game for both teams. Junior Wes Fleming ran for McGraw, but was unable to score.
The O’Connor defense flexed its muscle in the first inning, as 1st baseman Tyler Mitchell made a great over-the-shoulder running catch behind first base in foul territory, and catcher Jason Matyszczyk threw out Falcons’ speed demon Keyon Barnes trying to steal. McGraw got into the defensive act himself a couple of times during the game, throwing out runners on bunts, including a runner going to second on an attempted sacrifice. Stevens managed to hit a couple of long drives into the right centerfield gap, but the outfield speed of O’Connor seniors Jacob Galm and Patrick Thrash turned them into routine outs. Matyszczyk was perhaps the unsung defensive hero of the night, however, throwing out 6 strikeout victims at 1st base. He was a wall behind the plate all night, which allowed McGraw to use his devastating changeup and slider on 2-strike counts to the Stevens hitters. The pitches usually wound up in the dirt as swinging strikeouts, and Matyszczyk had to keep the ball in front of him, pick up, and throw to first for the out. Thanks in no small part to Matyszczyk, McGraw overpowered the Stevens hitters all night long.
Offensively, Panther shortstop Landon Thompson added a single to right field in the 4th inning for O’Connor’s third hit of the night, but that was all Solis allowed. Fist bumps to McGraw, of course, for another fantastic pitching performance, and to Matyszczyk for his work behind the plate. Fist bumps also to Mitchell for his catch behind 1st base, and to Greene who again somehow found a way to get on base and score. Most importantly, fist bumps to the entire Panther team, as they wore black armbands in memory of their fellow student and friend, Matt McKenzie. Classy! O’Connor has a date with the Judson Rockets next week as they begin post season play. Good luck Panthers!