Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
The Fatima Comets hail from Westphalia, but O’Fallon is fast becoming their second home.
For the third straight year, the Fatima baseball team has reached the Class 3 Final Four, which begins today at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.
“I think that in itself is a huge advantage, you could say, going into the Final Four,” Comets coach Scott Kilgore said. “Just because we’ve been there; we’ve done that. I’m not saying it’s anything guaranteed by any means, but just having that and understanding that and being able to turn it up a notch, I think is big.”
The Comets brought home the school’s second state title in 2013 and finished third in 2014. Fatima faces Lutheran: St. Charles at 7 p.m. today in semifinal action.
Dating back to 2013, the Comets have gone 16-1 in postseason games. Kilgore said there’s no secret, beside not letting opponents’ styles of play change Fatima’s approach.
“I don’t really know the trick,” he said. “I just know they understand the level of play and competition and competitiveness, I guess you could say, to edge past their opponents there in those big games.”
The one loss in that span came in a semifinal game last year against Springfield Catholic, the team Fatima defeated in the 2013 state championship. The Comets’ seventh-inning rally fell short when a deep fly that would have tied the game was corralled for the final out. The Fightin’ Irish went on to win the title game.
“We brought what we had last year. We brought it in full force,” Kilgore said. “We ran into a buzzsaw with Springfield Catholic’s pitcher. … We beat them in the championship in ’13, and they really didn’t lose a lot going into the ’14 season. So we knew they were going to come back and just be pretty dominant, and honestly they were.”
Beside that, the Comets have been perfect in postseason play the past three seasons.
Seven of the eight seniors on this year’s squad competed in last year’s Final Four, and three — Logan Vogel, Zach Hudspeth and Sam Hager — were on the 2013 state championship team as sophomores.
“The three seniors I had last year were outstanding leaders and they were kind of our glue that kept our team together, and I’ll say the same thing about our seniors this year, but it seems to be even a stronger bond yet,” Kilgore said. “Just because, again, there’s so many of them. We’ve got eight guys, eight seniors, and they’re very tight. They’re great friends. They’ve played together since, heck, they were almost able to walk. They grew up together. They just know each other so well. They feed off each other so well, and I think that speaks volumes.”
The group is two wins away from putting the finishing touches on a stellar three-year span, although Kilgore said the string of success is still “far from a tradition.”
“I don’t really have that definition,” he said. “I don’t really know. I guess you can label it however you want, but we just try to play one season, one game at a time and kind of take what we’ve got and make the best of it. I guess if you want to call that a tradition, you can. … Making the best out of what you have year in and year out — that, to me, is a tradition.”
Vogel is the leader among the regulars for Fatima with a batting average of .398 and is second in home runs with four and fourth in RBI with 14.
Hager is tied with junior Will Robertson for second in batting average at .375, while Robertson leads all players with five homers and 20 RBI.
Hudspeth is second in RBI with 19 and has two homers and a batting average of .333, while Hager is third in RBI with 17.
To return to the championship game, the Comets (20-7) must first get past Lutheran: St. Charles (16-12).
“Just talking to other coaches, I know they’ve got a couple of pretty good pitchers,” Kilgore said of the Cougars. “They’re obviously pretty good hitters. Their offense is pretty strong, especially the top of their order. … Anytime you get to this level, you’re going to be seeing some pretty good competition.”
Fatima has quite the 1-2 punch on the mound, as well. The arms of seniors Alex Dickneite, who will start today, and Vogel have propelled the Comets back to state. In Fatima’s four wins this postseason, Dickneite and Vogel have allowed just three runs on 10 hits — including a no-hitter by Dickneite against Eugene.
For the season, Dickneite is 5-2 with an ERA of 2.51 and he has struck out 32 in 361/3 innings of work. Vogel is 8-1 with a 1.42 ERA to go with 38 strikeouts in 491/3 innings.
“Those guys are throwing tremendously well,” Kilgore said. “Honestly, I haven’t had to go to the bullpen at all in the postseason, and that’s rare. It reminds me of our ’13 season when we won it all. I’m not saying that we’re going to or anything like that. Obviously that’s your goal, but it’s very similar up to this point of that season where we’re getting complete games out of these starting guys, and that’s huge.”
If the Comets do have to go to the pen, likely candidates for work are Hager and juniors Josh Holtschneider and Brady Weavers. Hager is 2-2 with a 1.56 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 27 innings, Holtschneider is 4-0 with a 1.35 ERA to go with 28 strikeouts in 26 innings, and Weavers is 0-1 with one save and has a 2.78 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 222/3 innings.
Robertson is the team’s leader in saves with three and also has a record of 1-1 despite pitching just 91/3 innings. He has 13 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.00.
Scott City (20-12) and Warsaw (22-2) face off at 4:30 p.m. in today’s first semifinal. Fatima and Warsaw were the only two Final Four teams ranked by the Missouri Baseball Coaches Association in the final regular-season rankings, with the Comets second and Wildcats sixth. Scott City and Lutheran: St. Charles weren’t even among the “others receiving votes” section of the poll.
The championship game begins at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, following the third-place game at 10:30 a.m.