The Boonville Pirates baseball team will meet an old rival in the semifinal round of the Class 4 Missouri State High School Championships on Friday at T.R. Hughes ballpark in O’Fallon.
Although the two teams have met several times since Boonville’s exit in the MRVC in 2007, the game Friday will mark the first time that both teams have squared off in the Final Four. While the Panthers will be making their first-ever appearance in the Final Four, Boonville will be playing in the state tournament for the second time since 2008, where they tied for third.
The Pirates, 17-8 overall, and the Panthers, 21-7, will play in the second semifinal game on Friday starting at 7 p.m. In the first semifinal game in Class 4, Westminster (31-3) will take on Logan-Rogersville (24-3) starting at 4 p.m. Boonville Athletic Director Chris Shikles said Saturday’s games  will be determined later.
To get to the Final Four, Boonville defeated St. Mary’s of St. Louis 6-4 while Oak Grove beat St. Pius-X of Kansas City 3-2.
Boonville Pirates baseball coach Tim Edwards said the Panthers have really been playing well as of late.
“The 3-4 hitter, the Doherty kid, is a good hitter and they have a good pitcher,” Edwards said. “They are a good team and coach Sears does a great job. It’s kind of odd in a way that we are playing Oak Grove. Typically you are going to see teams when you get to the Final Four that you have never seen before. It’s good because there are a lot of things that you already know as opposed to the unknown. When you are facing teams in the Final Four that you haven’t seen before sometimes you think they are giants so to speak, but now that we know who we are playing, and as a team we have played, we know they are good. You don’t exaggerate details because you know them.”
Although Boonville and Oak Grove were scheduled to play on May 1, Edwards said the game was cancelled due to conference reasons. “They had to get in a conference game,” Edwards said.
Nonetheless, the Pirates enter Thursday’s game having won nine in a row and 11 of their last 13. However, going into Friday’s semifinal game, Boonville will have the fourth best record.
Edwards said he feels like his team is the underdog and relishes that role.
“We struggled early in the year and played a lot of young guys and they just needed at bats, ground balls and to be put in situations. Now some of those sophomores don’t play like sophomores,” Edwards said. “Last year they played like freshmen while this year they played like sophomore earlier on but now they are playing like upperclassmen. Of course the upperclassmen, we don’t have a large number like Kirksville, who had 13. St. Mary’s had quite a few on the field and so did Duchesne but our upperclassmen are playing like veterans and getting the job done.”
With their first losing season in the history of the program last year at 11-16 overall, Edwards said it makes you feel good to realize what the coaching staff is doing is the right thing. He said the kids never gave up on believing in themselves last year and then on top of that some players were forced into action that weren’t quite ready for varsity action. “That hurt the overall record, but it’s really paying off this year,” Edward said.
Although the Pirates have been on a roll since the last-two weeks of the regular season, the first half of the 2013 campaign  was tough to say the least. After finishing 1-2 in the Sedalia Smith-Cotton Tournament, Boonville stood at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in the NCMC. The Pirates also finished 0-2 in the Wood Bat Tournament to drop to the .500 mark at 6-6 overall.
Edwards said he saw potential in the team during the Sedalia Tournament even though they finished 1-2.
“I saw the potential that we could be solid at that point,” Edwards said. “We kept plugging away and working at it but I felt all along that we had a chance to be pretty good and even though in the Wood Bat Tournament we had a 1-0 loss to Grain Valley, we just couldn’t come up with a hit and had an error that really gave them their run. Against Columbia Hickman it was a two-run ballgame in the sixth and they are a good team obviously. We were right there with them even though the score doesn’t indicate that.”
Edwards also saw something from the team in losses against Marshall and Mexico toward the end of the regular season.
The Pirates lost on the road against the Owls 6-4 and then dropped a rare home game against the Bulldogs by a score of 4-2.  
“I still felt like we were playing pretty good baseball,” Edwards said. “It was one or two errors in each of those games that made the difference. We talked about that and the kids realized that if we eliminate those errors, we win those ballgames. The Moberly games that we played up there I felt pretty good about where we were headed at that point.”
Meanwhile, as the No. 2 seed in the district tournament behind Kirksville, the Pirates faced Mexico for a third time in the semifinal round. Boonville wound up winning that game 5-1.
“We pitched well and played good defense,” Edwards said of the Mexico game. “I was super concerned about that game obviously because the Creed kid beat us once here and that is a game we could have beat them but we made a critical error at the wrong time,” Edwards said. “The recipe has been the same all along if you pitch well. We don’t have guys who are going to strike out double digit people every night but we try to keep the ball down in the zone and try to get ground balls. If our pitchers focus on hitting their spots and if we play defense behind them like we know we can than we just have to scratch out a couple of runs. If we can hold a team to 2-3 runs a game, we feel like we have a real good shot.”
Of course it also helps when you best hitter on the team gets hot at the right time. With a 12-22 stretch up until last Thursday’s quarterfinal game against St. Mary’s, Jalen Poindexter also raised his average from .388 to .416. However after the game against St. Mary’s, Poindexter is resting comfortably at .395 with a team leading 32 hits, 12 doubles, three home runs, 31 RBIs and a slugging percentage of .654.
“Jalen has been a huge key obviously,” Edwards said. “Our guys have a lot of faith in him. He is a dangerous hitter at the plate but he is not the only one obviously. I think anytime you have a team do well you have to start with pitching. I don’t care what level you are playing at, you have to have guys  throw the ball across the plate. We have guys that are doing that and then if you got guys that can’t blow it by people then you have to have guys behind them to play defensively. Our defense has improved all year long and it has taken us quite a while to figure out every position. We have had some different guys out in the outfield and we have had some different guys on the infield in different spots. And then obviously the offense comes into play. If you can scratch together some hits and manufacture a few runs now and then and score in multiple innings, that is huge.”
So far so good. After Thursday’s win against St. Mary’s, senior Caleb Hein stands with the best overall record at 5-2. However, three other players have three wins or more. Chase Snapp is currently 4-2 while Jordan Copeland is 3-0 and Dallas Franklin 3-1.
As for the Oak Grove Panthers, junior Jacob Kienzler currently leads the team in hitting with a .386 clip. But not far behind are seniors Conner Matson at .352 and Cole Doherty at .301.
Matson is also the teams leading pitcher with a record of 7-2. In 55 1/3 innings pitched, Matson has struck out 57 batters for an ERA of 0.89.
Both Boonville and Oak Grove have also had their ups and downs once getting to the quarterfinals. While the Panthers fell last year in the quarters, the Pirates fell to Springfield Catholic in 2011 and Pembroke Hill in 2010.
Edwards said it was kind of nice to get the monkey of their backs.
“These kids are hungry,” Edwards said. “This is the time of the year that you want to be playing your best baseball. We went and saw T.R. Hughes ballpark last week for a reason. We put up pictures of T. R. Hughes in the locker room at the beginning of the season saying that was our destination. That was our goal and the kids have worked extremely hard to make that happen.”