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Francis Howell advances to quarterfinals after besting Panthers

Francis Howell senior outfielder Joey Land slaps a pitch toward second base during a Class 5 sectional game at Francis Howell High School on May 24.

Francis Howell senior outfielder Joey Land slaps a pitch toward second base during a Class 5 sectional game at Francis Howell High School on May 24. [Jonathan Duncan/Mid Rivers Newsmagazine photo]

Digging out of early holes this postseason is nothing new for Tony Perkins and the Francis Howell baseball Vikings.

Four days ago, Howell found themselves staring up out of a hole after falling behind two runs in the first inning against Timberland in the Class 5, District 8 title game.

Tuesday in the Class 5 sectional at Howell, the Vikings were in a similar dilemma after Fort Zumwalt North scored two runs in the top of the first.

But, Perkins and the Vikings did not have to worry long as Howell overcame the early deficit and scored five runs down the stretch to race to an 8-2 victory over the Panthers.

“It feels real good because last year we got out in the second game in districts,” said Francis Howell senior first baseman Brady Wildschuetz. “It’s exhilarating.”

Howell (26-11), which advances to the quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons, and ninth in program history, will play at Parkway Central Thursday at 4 p.m.

Fort Zumwalt North, making its first sectional appearance since 2010, finished the season at 21-7.

“I told these boys, we haven’t done this in a long time,” Zumwalt North coach Steve Siebert said. “These guys have got something you can’t teach. It’s great bunch of kids and we’ve got a bunch coming back.”

The Panthers got on top in the top of the first courtesy of a Howell error. That miscue extended the inning and Connor Zangriles ripped a two-run single off Howell starter Jake Kostyshock.

“That was a great start,  everything was rolling,” Siebert said.

Wildschuetz came up with two out in the bottom of the first and delivered a two-run single with bases loaded to square the count at 2-2.

“That was exciting, real big,” Wildschuetz said. “I feel like it set the tone going into the next few innings. You can’t get too caught up in the hype but whenever you cause the hype, then you can start rolling with it.”

“I’m so proud of him (Wildschuetz),” said Perkins, the veteran Vikings coach. “He’s one of the hardest workers on our team. I always root for him.”

Howell went in front in the third when Kyle Grantham singled to center with two out for a 3-2 edge.

Kostyshock and Zumwalt North starter Nick Bohannan settled in after the first two frames and the bats for both teams got quiet.

Braydon Cook came on in relief of Kostyshock in the top of the fifth with the tying run on at first. Cook, a Murray State recruit, pitched out of that jam and did not allow a run as he wrapped up the win.

“I’m really, really proud of Braydon Cook,” Perkins said. “He came in throwing some good strikes, getting ahead of people and doing what he had to do to shut them down.”

In the bottom of the fifth the Vikings pulled away as Bohannan could not slow down the Vikings offense.

With runners at first and third and no outs, Wildschuetz, racing down to first, reached on a throwing error to first and two runs came home to score.

“The thing is you don’t need a big hit to get the fire started,” Wildschuetz said. “I feel like if you just run and hustle down the line good things will happen and it did.”

Joey Land added an RBI bunt single and Justin Perkins capped off the big frame with a two-run triple to the right field gap to make it 8-2.

“That’s what we try to do is put the pressure on people, Perkins said. “We hit and run, bunt, steal and we’ll do whatever we have to do to get under your skin.”

Land was 3 for 3 on the day. The win was Howell’s ninth straight as the Vikings have caught fire at the right time once again.

That leaves the Vikings looking toward Thursday, and with a win Thursday Howell would be making its fourth final four appearance in the last six years and 11th in program history.

“Once, we got to our last three games in the regular season, we started picking it up and started getting into a groove,” Wildschuetz said.

 

 

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