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West County rebounds for third place in state

O’FALLON, Mo. – Four West County seniors assumed the role of refocusing their baseball team following a frustrating 5-4 loss to Valley Park in the MSHSAA Class 3 state semifinals.

“We had a meeting on the bus after eating last night, probably about 10 or 15 minutes,” senior catcher Matt Momot said. “We said that we could either hang our heads and get fourth place, or rally back like we always have and take third. This says a lot about our team.”

The Bulldogs indeed rebounded on Thursday, and achieved the highest accolade in program history with a 5-1 victory over Knob Noster in the third-place game at CarShield Field.

Sophomore Zach Francis went the distance on 97 pitches, and equaled senior shortstop Jared Jones in the lineup with two singles each for West County (18-4-1).

“Yesterday’s loss was tough, but we had to come back today and we wanted to have some fun,” Jones said. “Not every kid gets to go to the state final four, and getting third place is something that West County had never done. A goal of ours was to make history at our school.”

The Bulldogs overcame adversity just to navigate district play as Francis and Hayden Roney filled in to pitch when elbow pain hampered seniors Jacob Meinershagen and Jones in back-to-back games.

Momot, who entered spring practice on the heels of a concussion suffered during the basketball season, provided some of his best swings from the lead-off spot once the playoffs began.

Jared Barnett – the fourth senior on the club – added a sacrifice bunt as a pinch-hitter Thursday during a two-run sixth inning that helped the Bulldogs pick up valuable insurance.

“I knew they had it in them, but it’s hard to get to the final four,” said West County coach John Simily, whose 2007 squad took fourth in the state. “I’m just proud of the kids, especially the seniors that have worked so hard and led the younger players. It’s a great experience for all of them.”

With relief options being more limited than usual, Francis (7-0) supplied an efficient outing that was much needed. The Bulldogs backed the right-hander with errorless defense.

Francis needed only five pitches to breeze through his first and third frames, but also proved clutch when facing two extremely dangerous threats.

Senior shortstop Chase Hagle finished a perfect 3-for-3, and stood at third base with no outs in the top of the second after Knob Noster pitcher Justin Gemes ripped a double that was briefly misjudged.

Francis calmly responded by striking out the next three batters to keep the score at 2-0. He ultimately carried a shutout bid into the seventh while accurately locating his curve.

“I rely on that a lot, because that’s my secondary pitch and I don’t throw that hard,” said Francis, who registered five strikeouts and scattered seven hits. “I had to mix it up to keep them off balance.”

Jones recorded seven defensive assists as Francis induced a steady diet of ground balls. An enormous double play ended the Panthers’ fourth after the bases were loaded with no outs.

West County failed to score multiple runs during any inning on Wednesday, but quickly accomplished that objective against the Panthers when sophomore Ty Simily lined a two-RBI single to right field.

Jones sparked the rally with a one-out single, and moved to third on a double by Meinershagen, who eluded a tag during a rundown and safely retreated to second base.

The Bulldogs opened the second inning with four consecutive hits by Francis, Dake McRaven, Momot and Jones, but could only capitalize for one run.

The bases-loaded drive by Jones ricocheted off an umpire and was corralled along the infield, resulting in a 3-0 advantage as only one man could cross the plate.

Gemes coaxed a big double play to avoid further damage as third baseman Lane Bolton threw home to get the lead runner after stepping on the nearest bag for a force out.

Tate Roberts doubled into the left-field corner, and scored on a Francis single before an error pushed the West County margin to 5-0 in the sixth.

Roney singled and courtesy runner Peyton Nipper had two stolen bases for the Bulldogs, who finished with 10 hits overall.

“At the start of the season, we had a lot of young guys. We didn’t know how everyone was going to come together,” Meinershagen said. “Probably game six or seven, we realized that we had something special going. We turned the switch, and everybody was hitting on all cylinders. We were getting 15 to 18 hits a game with just four seniors.”

Knob Noster (20-7) notched its lone run after Ean Rohde walked, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on Brodie Payne’s ground out in the seventh.

Gemes fanned four and walked none while yielding four earned runs on 102 pitches in defeat. He also went 2-for-3 offensively.

South Callaway blanked Valley Park 4-0 in the state championship contest.

West County senior second baseman Jacob Meinershagen throws to complete a double play after forcing out Knob Noster runner Nataevis Price (15) during fourth inning action on Thursday in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game in O'Fallon, Mo.

West County senior second baseman Jacob Meinershagen throws to complete a double play after forcing out Knob Noster runner Nataevis Price (15) during fourth inning action on Thursday in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game in O’Fallon, Mo.

The West County baseball team stands with the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place trophy after defeating Knob Noster 5-1 on Thursday, June 1, 2017, in O'Fallon, Mo. The Bulldogs achieved the highest finish in program history with a final record of 18-5-1.

The West County baseball team stands with the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place trophy after defeating Knob Noster 5-1 on Thursday, June 1, 2017, in O’Fallon, Mo. The Bulldogs achieved the highest finish in program history with a final record of 18-5-1.

West County sophomore Zach Francis pitches during the fifth inning Thursday, June 1, 2017, against Knob Noster in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game in O'Fallon, Mo. Francis tallied five strikeouts and scattered seven hits in a complete-game win.

West County sophomore Zach Francis pitches during the fifth inning Thursday, June 1, 2017, against Knob Noster in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game in O’Fallon, Mo. Francis tallied five strikeouts and scattered seven hits in a complete-game win.

West County senior Jared Jones lines an RBI single during second inning action against Knob Noster in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game Thursday in O'Fallon, Mo.

West County senior Jared Jones lines an RBI single during second inning action against Knob Noster in the MSHSAA Class 3 state third-place game Thursday in O’Fallon, Mo.

Matt King is the sports editor for the Daily Journal. Contact him at mking@dailyjournalonine.com

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