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Fort Zumwalt West defeats Parkway North for first state semifinal berth

The Fort Zumwalt West Jaguars celebrate after beating Parkway North in a Class 5 baseball quarterfinal game on Thursday at Fort Zumwalt West High School. [Jonathan Duncan/Mid-Rivers Newsmagazine photo]

Fort Zumwalt West pitcher Patrick Connor flirted with danger for the first three innings against a potent Parkway North offense as the Vikings banged out nine hits early.

But Connor, a junior righthander, didn’t break or collapse. He righted himself and rebounded by setting down 10 straight North hitters and then the Jaguars bats, helped by Connor, exploded for five late runs to claim an 8-3 Class 5 quarterfinal win Thursday at Fort Zumwalt West.

“They got to me a little bit early and I was just letting them hit and seeing what would happen,” Connor said. “In the later inning I started focusing, hitting spots and making them hit my pitch.”

Fort Zumwalt West (23-14), winners of its first district title last week and first sectional on Tuesday, secured its first semifinal appearance in the program’s 18-year history. The Jaguars will take on Poplar Bluff or Vianney on June 2, at 4 p.m. at CarShield Field in O’Fallon just minutes from the school.

“I don’t know if I’ve smiled this much since my wedding day,” Fort Zumwalt West coach Eric Gough said. “I’m so happy for these guys. They’ve truly bought in to what we’ve been preaching and I’m happy for them, they’ve worked hard and now they’ve taken our program to the next level.”

Parkway North (17-12) was looking for its third trip to the state tournament but it was not in the cards for the Vikings this time around.

“We did score runs, we could have scored a lot more,” Parkway North coach Mark Reeder said. “That’s a credit to them. They made plays when we put the ball in play. Their pitcher battled and they were tough and we couldn’t get the big hit to kind of put us over the edge.”

It was a back and forth game early as Connor and North hurler Ben Borgmann grinded through the opening five innings as the teams combined for six runs on 15 hits.

North took a 1-0 lead on Borgmann’s bunt single with bases-loaded in the second. The Jaguars struck back with two in the second on a run-scoring single by Nick Rocco and an RBI-double from Tyler Eckman.

Parkway North pulled back ahead in the top of the third as Tyler Nord and Lucian Thibodeaux ripped RBI-singles for a 3-2 edge.

Gough came out to the mound at that point and appeared to be ready to pull Connor from the game.

But Gough kept Connor in and Connor pitched out of trouble and rolled through the next 10 hitters from there.

“I had my two-seam and my curveball working then and I made them chase my pitch in the later innings,” Connor said.

Zumwalt West evened the game in the bottom of the third on a two out balk that scored a run and then regained the lead in the fifth with two runs.

In the fifth, Connor led off with a double down the left field line and courtesy runner Clark Davenport came home to score on the eventual game-winner as Andrew Schofield sliced a single to center.

“Pat led it off with a good double and I when went up there he gave me a good fastball and I jumped on it,” Schofield said.

Schofield later scored on a throwing error making it 5-3.

The Jaguars added three insurance tallies in the bottom of the sixth. Eckman singled  in a run and Connor capped off his big day with a two-run double to extend the lead to 8-3. The double was Connors third hit of the day.

“It was 5-3 going into the sixth and we felt pretty good,” Reeder said. “They put a couple of guys on, got  big a hit and scored three runs.”

Junior left-hander Drew Strohm took over in the seventh to stop Vikings final chance and send the Jaguars and their fans into bedlam.

“It feels amazing. Especially for the seniors,” Connor said. “We just want to do everything we can to further their baseball careers because it could be their last game.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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