Oak Grove coach Kirk Sears likes to think he makes small tweaks to his managerial style depending on his personnel. But that’s all they are — minor adjustments.
By SAM McDOWELL
The Kansas City Star
For more than a decade, Sears has built the strength of the Panthers around two old-school facets of baseball: Pitching and defense. And that philosophy never changes.
“I’ve done this a long time,” Sears said. “After going through the playoffs as a player and as a coach, I have a pretty good idea that if you’re going to compete late in the season, you’ve got to pitch it and you’ve got catch it.”
If true, it’s no wonder a pair of local teams — Oak Grove and Staley — are still alive in the Missouri baseball playoffs.
Oak Grove will play Boonville at 7 p.m. Friday in the Class 4 semifinals; Staley meets Francis Howell at 7 p.m. Saturday in the Class 5 semifinals. The 64th annual Missouri state baseball tournament will be played at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in O’Fallon.
While they may compete in different classes, Oak Grove and Staley share two distinct qualities. They can pitch, and they play defense.
“Those are the two things you can control,” Staley coach David Wilson said. “You can hit the ball hard right at someone, and it’s still an out. Pitching and defense: You can control those two things.”
Of course, defense is much easier to play behind teams equipped with the proper arms on the mound. No problem there.
Of the top five pitchers on Staley’s staff in terms of innings, all have earned run averages at 2.82 or below. The Falcons, 20-7, have a de facto ace in senior Brian Alewine, who leads the team with five wins and 43 strikeouts in 37 innings. Senior Austin White has compiled a 3-1 record and 2.60 ERA in 35 innings.
Oak Grove ace Conner Matson is 8-2 with a 0.87 ERA. Behind him, senior Cole Doherty has won six games with a 1.78 ERA for the Panthers, who are 21-7.
“We’ve won a lot of close games with our pitching,” Sears said. “If we can manufacture a couple of runs, our pitching staff makes it tough to come back on us.”
Oak Grove is seeking its first state baseball championship since 1992.
Staley is appearing in the state tournament for the first time in its five-year history.