Reliever steers O’Connor in the right direction
O’Connor senior pitcher Jack Phipps spent the first part of his Spring Break showing off a steer at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
On Thursday, the lefty took the mound at Northside Field No. 2 and utilized a mesmerizing curve in 5 2/3 innings of relief to help the top-ranked Panthers post a 7-2 victory over No. 5 Clark in District 28-6A play.
Phipps struck out six (four looking), allowed four hits and one run in the longest outing of his two-season tenure on O’Connor’s varsity.
“I just wanted to keep my team in the game,” said Phipps, who had 91 pitches. “I knew they were there behind me, so I just wanted to let the other team put the ball in play.”
Phipps came in relief of starter Addison Sells, who struggled, issuing five walks in 1 1/3 innings and 51 pitches. Sells opened the second with a strikeout and then issued four consecutive walks that led to Clark’s first run. Phipps worked out of the inning and O’Connor maintained a 2-1 lead.
“Coming in with bases loaded and one out is about as tough as you can have in baseball, and the way he handled it was outstanding,” O’Connor shortstop Sammy Castillo said of Phipps.
Phipps’ outing was vital because the Panthers’ pitching staff is depleted with three injuries. The difficulties were multiplied because O’Connor (15-3, 7-0 district) was playing its third game in four days. But, O’Connor coach David Collenback had a hunch Phipps could handle a tough situation.
“He didn’t see much action last year, but what a world of difference one year makes,” Collenback said. “He’s pitched some good outings and took some tough losses in these tournaments, but we knew he had the ability to do what he did today.”
The pitching struggles weren’t limited to O’Connor. Clark, which lost for a third straight time, needed four pitchers to get through the game. Starter Daniel Burke gave up four earned runs, five hits and three walks in 1 2/3 innings. Three of those runs were on bases-loaded walks.
The Panthers scored two runs in each of the first three innings and one in the fourth.
O’Connor took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first following a bases-loaded walk by Cade Collenback and a sacrifice fly to right by Caleb Smith.
Clark (10-6-1, 3-4) responded in the second after Sells walked the bases loaded and then issued a one-out pass to Ryan Silva that cut the Panthers’ lead to 2-1. Phipps then came in relief of Sells after 51 pitches. The Cougars followed with two groundouts and stranded three.
Jackson Blietz and Collenback each had bases-loaded walks in the second to make it 4-1.
Castillo had an RBI single, the Panthers’ only run scored on a hit, and Walker Jordan came home on a wild pitch to put O’Connor on top, 6-1, in the third. Jordan made it 7-1 with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
Cody Edwards doubled in a run for Clark in the fifth to make it, 7-1.
O’Connor went 3-0 for the week and remained tied for first in district with No. 8 Brennan. They play at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“We know Brennan is another top team in the district, and we’re going to have to come out and play defense behind our pitchers,” Castillo said. “Getting three wins this week is going to be big in helping us finish the year.”