O'FALLON, Mo. - The Fatima baseball team used clutch hitting and strong starting pitching to reach the Final Four. It was only fitting that combination ended up leading the Comets to a state championship.
Patrick Schnieders tossed a complete-game shutout and the Comets scored a pair of runs in the eighth inning to knock off Springfield Catholic 2-0 in the Class 3 state championship game Friday afternoon at T.R. Hughes Ballpark.
Springfield Catholic had the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the eighth, but a 6-4-3 double play ended the game, setting off a wild celebration in front of the mound as the Comets celebrated their first state baseball title since 1992.
"It feels unbelievable," Fatima head coach Scott Kilgore said. "I'm happy for these kids. These are memories they are going to remember."
The Comets (23-5) mobbed Schnieders, who was key in leading the Comets to victory.
The title ended a wild day in which Fatima rallied to win a suspended game against Hallsville earlier in the morning.
"It means a lot to me," Schnieders said. "This is my ultimate goal as a senior. What a better year than your senior year. It's a great feeling. We accomplished our goal."
The final game of Fatima's season was typical of the how the season went. Schnieders was at his best and Fatima's offense came through when it needed to.
Schnieders and Springfield Catholic's Tyler Ast were locked in a pitchers' duel all afternoon. The Comets finally broke through in the top of the eighth when Reid Kesel's single to center plated Brady Weber to give the Comets a 1-0 lead. Seth Lehmen singled home another run to put Fatima up 2-0.
That proved to be more than enough.
"I just walked up to the plate looking to hit a pitch hard somewhere and he gave me one right down the middle," Kesel said. "A fastball I'm pretty sure, and I did what I usually do with it."
That left it up to Schnieders, who closed his prep career by getting a ground ball that led to the final double play. He struck out 11 Fighting Irish batters.
"That's his performance," Kilgore said of Schnieders. "He's typical of that. He's been doing that all year long. He did that in the district championships. He's done that up to this point for us in big games. He's come through huge. That kid's going to have a tremendous future."
Schnieders, who will pitch at Jefferson County Community College next spring, had to pitch in and out of trouble early on. The Fightin' Irish (23-5) loaded the bases in the first inning and put the first two on in the third. But Schnieders got around it. After that, it was smooth sailing.
Springfield Catholic did not get a runner past second base after the third inning as Schnieders kept the Irish off balance.
Schnieders, who threw 116 pitches, said there wasn't a chance he was going to come of the game. Kilgore felt almost the same way.
"We were going until he couldn't go anymore," Kilgore said. "It's a tough call when the kid's got momentum like he does. I hate to say you forget the pitch count. ... He was in a flow. You just don't want to interrupt the pitcher when he's in a flow."
Schnieders, who struck out 11, was helped by his defense. In addition to the game-ending double play, catcher Nolan Bax caught a runner stealing and center fielder Ryan Mebruer made a pair of strong plays on a soggy outfield that at times caused problems with footing.
"I just knew I had to go out on the mound and perform my best pitches," Schnieders said. "The defense handed it to me. Give it all to them."
Ast matched Schnieders nearly pitch-for-pitch until the eighth. Fatima had just three hits in the first seven innings and hadn't threatened to score since stranding runners at second and third in the first. He was able to keep the Comets off balance by mixing in his pitches.
"He really has a great changeup," Kilgore said. "A lot of offspeed stuff. We were hitting everything out on our front foot, hitting a lot of groundballs. It took eight innings, but we got to him."
Fatima was only in the state title game because it rallied earlier in the day to beat Hallsville in a semifinal game suspended in the bottom of the seventh inning due to rain late Thursday night.
Down by a run when the game was suspended, Bax tied the game with a grounder to short. Lehmen finished it minutes later with a single up the middle to score Bax.
"I'm glad it ended the way it did, and not off an error or a mistake by a defender, or anybody for that matter," Kilgore said of the game against Hallsville. "It was a clean single. A two-out single with a runner in scoring position, dramatic fashion."
The semifinal game was similar to Fatima's state title win. Lehmen pitched a gem, allowing two unearned runs in seven innings. The offense got a pair of clutch hits to finish the rally.
Just a few hours later, the Comets repeated the feat to win the state championship.
"We've done that all season," Kilgore said. "These guys, they don't stop. They continue to fight."