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story.lead_photo.caption Jaden Hoskins of Fatima connects on a pitch for a double during the sixth inning of Friday's game against Lutheran: St. Charles in the Capital City Invitational at Vivion Field. Photo by Jason Strickland / News Tribune.

Pitching and defense. Together, they've been the backbone of successful baseball for a long time.

The Fatima Comets have used the duo to advance to the Class 3 Final Four starting Monday in O'Fallon.

"I'm an old-school guy," Fatima first-year coach Brian Bax said Saturday. "Start with the focus on pitching and defense and the offense can usually come around enough to find a way to score enough runs to win a game."

The Comets (14-14) are looking for the formula to continue to work for two more games, starting with Monday's 4 p.m. semifinal against Saxony Lutheran (22-3) at CarShield Field.

Fatima entered the season with six starters having little or no varsity experience. Adjusting to a different style under a new coach took a little time.

"It was hard to break habits in a short amount of time, but they've done a good job as the season has gone along," Bax said.

The season didn't get off to a great start as Fatima won just three of its first 12 games, ending with an eighth-place finish in the Capital City Invitational.

"We got thrown into the fire," Bax said. "The guys were down the first third of the season because of the win-loss record. But I kept reinforcing to them it was going to pay off down the road."

Fatima rebounded with a three-game winning streak to right the ship and play more like the team Bax thought it could be when he took the job.

"I knew coming in with some very good pitching arms here, this could happen," he said. "The thing I was worried about was getting the defense to go along with it, to develop."

Bax, who credits assistant Ethan Williams for making defensive adjustments during games, changed a few things defensively for the Comets.

"Like cutoff plays, the way they field groundballs, footwork on double plays," he said. "It just took time because old habits can be hard to break."

But with the trio of Austin Troesser, Josef Keilholz and Gage Bax on the mound, the Comets had the pitching to stay in games.

"I really think they are three of the best arms in Class 3," Brian Bax said. "All three of them can give us a chance to compete against most teams."

Troesser will get the start Monday for the sole reason it's his turn in the rotation. He's 5-4 on the season, with a 2.31 ERA. Keilholz, who went the distance to get the win in last Wednesday's quarterfinal, will then pitch on full rest Tuesday. Keilholz is 5-3 with a 3.00 ERA. Gage Bax, who is 4-3 with a 2.40 ERA, will remain as the starting catcher and be available in relief.

"We know we're going to need both of them to throw great ballgames to win this thing anyway, so it really doesn't make any difference who starts which day," Brian Bax, assisted with the pitchers by Steve Schnieders, said. "There's not much difference between the two, they are really two No. 1 pitchers."

The bats came around late in the season as the Comets scored nine or more runs in five of their last nine regular-season games.

"I knew we had some bats that had produced before, it was a matter of them continuing to develop and do a little more late in the season," Bax said.

Keilholz leads the Comets with 28 hits and 21 RBI, while Gage Bax has 21 hits to go along with 20 RBI. Jeffery Cunningham has driven in 20 runs, while Austin Wegman has 27 hits and 16 RBI to go along with a school single-season record 20 stolen bases.

"Austin is one of the best athletes I've ever seen on a ballfield," Brian Bax said. "This is the first time he's every played the outfield and he's stepped up and improved so much in a short period of time."

Trey Herzing has provided a boost to the lineup and in the field after returning from an injury just prior to the start of the district tournament, Bax added.

With the strength of their schedule, Bax doesn't think the Comets will be rattled at the plate in the Final Four.

"We've seen the best pitching there is in Mid-Missouri and they are some of the best in the state in their classes," he said. "It's fun to see great arms test us."

Fatima has played a handful of games on turf this season like it will see at CarShield Field. The Comets practiced Friday at Southern Boone to get a bit of a refresher course

Bax said the team is loose heading into the Final Four.

"I'm really proud of how far the kids have come, this is bonus time," he said. "Our confidence level has gone up and we're going to see if we can win a couple more games.

"There are only a few teams still playing, we're going to enjoy it."

Blair Oaks (21-11) will face Montgomery County (17-8) at 6:30 p.m. in Monday's second semifinal. The third-place game is scheduled for 11 a.m. Tuesday, with the title game to follow at 1:30 p.m.

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