The Blair Oaks Falcons create a pile of celebration after beating the Fatima Comets 1-0 in the Class 3 state championship game Tuesday in O'Fallon.

Chris Leuckel

Falcons edge Fatima to capture
school's third baseball crown

State champions!

Falcons will clash
with Comets for
Class 3 state title


May 28, 2019

O'FALLON, Mo. --- Funny how the smallest of things, something that seemed so insignificant at the time, can end up being the biggest thing of all.

It was the top of the fourth inning of the Class 3 state championship game between friendly, yet bitter, rivals --- the Blair Oaks Falcons and the Fatima Comets.

Scoreless game, the Falcons at bat, two out, nobody on.

On a 2-0 pitch, Ian Nolph blistered a shot to the wall left center. This was a sure double and it would put the game's first run in scoring position.

But Nolph didn't settle for a double, he kept chugging toward third.

The relay throw was high and Nolph slid in safely.

No big deal for the Comets, right? There were two out, after all, and the No. 8 hitter was coming up.

But oh my, it was a big deal.

Next up, Jacob Stegemann hit a ground ball deep in the hole that was snagged by shortstop Dawson Peters, who quickly fired to first. But on a bang-bang play, Stegemann was safe.

And since Nolph was at third base instead of second, he scored.

The only run of the game.

That play, combined with the splendid pitching performance by senior Parker Bax, led the Falcons to a thrilling 1-0 win over the Comets as Blair Oaks captured the Class 3 state championship Tuesday at CarShield Field.

"Our community takes a lot of pride in their athletics, so this is big," Falcons coach MIke DeMilia said. "There's pressure there, too, but it's really cool to see how much our community supports us.

"It's been a really good year at Blair Oaks and we were able to cap it off."

Here's a special tip of the cap to this Class of 2019, especially Nolan Hair.

He was the record-setting All-State quarterback on the state championship football team; a starting guard on the basketball team that made it to the Elite Eight; and the leadoff man and center fielder on this state championship baseball team.

"Truly, it's unbelievable the year that we've had," Hair said. "I ended it with a bang, I feel accomplished with my high school career."

Hair is true champion, both on and off the playing fields and courts.

"His athleticism speaks for itself," DeMilia said, "and his competitiveness and the way he goes about it ... he handles himself the right way all the time, he's a really good representative of our school.

"He's who you'd hope your son would be."

There's no higher praise ...

Bax (6-3) didn't come into this game bursting at the seams with confidence, but it sure didn't show. And on this day, seams were the theme.

"It's either been off or on for me, and it's been off a lot," Bax said. "So I had reason to be nervous, but for some reason, I wasn't.

"It all comes down to the two-seam (fastball) for me. Once I can control the two-seam and they swing and miss, I can throw the change-ups and curveball."

Bax threw a five-hitter in this 96-pitch gem, striking out seven and walking none.

"He's had a couple of outings this season that rival this," DeMilia said of Bax, "but not on this stage. For him to pitch this way in this pressure situation against a quality offensive team like Fatima, that's very impressive."

And Bax got the win because of the fourth inning.

The Falcons (23-11) --- who ended the season on a 13-game winning streak --- had already missed out on a pair of good scoring chances, including in the second inning when Nolph was nailed at the plate on a great throw by center fielder Austin Wegman, when Nolph tried to score from second on a two-out single Lane Libbert.

With two out and nobody on in the fourth, that's when the fun started ... at least it was fun for the Falcons. On Nolph's shot to the wall, and as he was approaching second base, he got the stop sign from DeMilia, who was coaching third.

But Nolph's stop light was on green, not red, and he ignored DeMilia's signal. That, however, was okay with the coach.

"If they have the ball in front of them, they always have the right to go," DeMilia said. "He had his eye on the ball the entire time, our guys have that option, it's been that way the entire year."

Still, one of baseball's millions of axioms is that you never make the first or third out at third base. So when DeMilia saw Nolph charging toward third, he winced. 

"I did, a little bit," he said, "but I have confidence in our guys. We've been doing it all year and our guys usually make really good decisions."

Then came Stegemann's grounder deep in the hole, and he beat Peters' throw by an eyelash.

"We preach all the time about running hard on the bases," DeMilia said, "and Jacob busted it down the line and was able to beat it out. That certainly shows you what kind of heart and determination he was playing with."

That was the only run Bax needed ... but it CERTAINLY wasn't the only run he was hoping for.

"Once we got that run," Bax said, "I was like: 'We need so many more,' because I didn't want it to come down to the wire like that."

Josef Keilholz (5-4) was the tough-luck loser for the Comets (15-15), who's wonderful late-season surge fell one win short of the ultimate goal. In 6.1 innings, he allowed one run on eight hits, he struck out six and walked three.

"He was pretty much perfect, like me," Bax said innocently. "He just had one mess up and it cost them the game, so that pretty much (stinks) for him, because he was good."

As were both of these teams this season, really good. DeMilia tipped his cap to Comets' first-year head coach Brian Bax, who couldn't be reached for comment, and his young team.

"Brian's done a great job with those guys, they just kept getting better and better," DeMilia said. "Their kids fought hard and they competed to the last out."

Indeed, as Trey Herzing was on third when the last out was recorded.

"Every 90 feet,' DeMilia said, "is important."

When the fly ball by Jared Hoskins dropped into the glove of left fielder Kamron Morriss for the final out, it was over ... but the celebration was ust starting.

"It was almost unreal," Bax said. "I never even realized that dude was on third ... it was insane. It was perfect, because I've been playing with (and against) those guys all through high school. They're good guys.

"But this feels great."
It should, because this was truly a great sports school year it was for everybody in Green. Only one problem: it went by way, way too fast.

"It seems like yesterday I was freshman," Hair said, "and I was thinking how this would never be over. Then I blink and the next day, I'm already graduating."

That's life, Mr. Hair.

IIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII

FOLLOWING BLAIR OAKS' WIN, the Central Missouri beat(ings) kept marching on.

The St. Elizabeth Hornets scored four runs in the top of the first inning and never looked back in their 6-1 semifinal win over the Cooter Wildcats in the Class 1 semifinals at CarShield Field.

Carson Kesel totaled two hits, two RBI and scored two runs for the second-ranked Hornets (17-4), who finished second in state last year and are seeking the program's third title, but first in 22 years.

Dylan Wobbe and Brock Lucas both had two hits, including a double, while Nolan Heckmeyer chipped in two singles.

The support was more than enough for Aaron Blomberg (5-1), who tossed a five-hitter and didn't allow an earned run. He struck out eight and walked one.

St. Elizabeth will meet fourth-ranked LaPlata (18-1) at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday for the state championship. LaPlata scored a run with two out in the bottom of the seventh to edge Weaubleau 1-0 in the second semifinal.

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