One final honor

Call this the gift that keeps on giving.

In two wacky and wonderful days in O'Fallon --- including a semifinal game that took 14 hours to complete --- the Fatima Comets captured the Class 3 State Baseball Championship, the school's first since 1992.

Pure gold, that's tough to beat.

But now comes the icing on the cake, as the Comets have been named the KRCG HyVee Team of the Season, earning $500 for the school's booster club.

How sweet it is.

"This is a great honor, obviously, especially when you consider all the teams in the area that KRCG covers," Fatima coach Scott Kilgore said. "There are a lot of great teams around here."

With a core of seven seniors, the Comets seemed destined for greatness before the first pitch of the season.

"I really thought we had a shot this year," senior Patrick Schnieders said. "We had a bunch of returning seniors and bunch of underclassmen who could really play.
"We had the chemistry, also, to do it. And we had a lot of talent, that's a good combination."

True. But then there's this --- Fatima hadn't gotten past the district tournament since 2002.

"We'd been in the district championship game six or eight times since then, but fell just short," Kilgore said. "It was kind of like Phil Mickelson, who's always finishing second in the U.S. Open.

"So that was a huge step for us."

Said Schnieders: "That was a big monkey off our back. Psychologically, that was the hardest thing to overcome."

Schnieders tossed a one-hitter in that 3-0, district-clinching win over Blair Oaks --- and that one hit was by the Falcons' first batter of the game.

He threw a Shelby Miller.

This started an amazing run by Fatima's starters, i.e., Schnieders and fellow senior righthander Seth Lehmen --- six straight complete games to end the season. From the district tourney through the state title game, this Dynamic Duo gave up a grand total of two earned runs.

Two. In 43 innings. In a string of games against the best teams in the state.


"They stepped on the mound and just dominated," Kilgore said. "It's almost unheard of; it was an amazing run, it really was. That's any coach's dream, to get that kind of performance out of your pitching staff.

"It made my job a lot easier."

Still, winning the state title was anything but easy. The semifinal game against Hallsville started May 30, but was stopped by rain around 10 p.m. in the bottom of the seventh inning, with the Comets trailing 2-1. They had a runner on third with one out, and there was a 3-2 count on Nolan Bax when the game resumed the next morning.

"I didn't sleep too well, but I was rooming with Nolan and he slept worse than me," Schnieders said. "He only got about an hour and a half of sleep that night.
"It was unbelievable pressure, but he came through and did the job."

The Comets scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull out an improbable 3-2 win, before edging Springfield Catholic 2-0 in eight innings later that day to win the state title.

"It's something you wouldn't want to do again," Schnieders said, "but the way it happened made it way more special and unforgettable. It was just an unbelievable, weird feeling. It's almost unheard of, how it happened.

"It's something I'll never forget ... it's something that will stick with all of us, forever."

Schnieders earned first-team All-State honors for the Comets, who ended the year at 23-5. He set a school record with 45 hits this season, breaking the mark of 43 held by Joe Crede, while batting .506 with four home runs and a slugging percentage of .708.

Those are slowpitch softball numbers.

In addition, Schnieders went 7-0 with an ERA of less than 1.50. He went all eight innings in the championship game against Springfield Catholic, allowing six hits and striking out 11, for his third straight shutout.

"He just had an amazing season," Kilgore said. "He did it all."

(A sidenote: Schnieders attended the Cubs-Cardinals game in St. Louis on Tuesday night --- and he was pulling for the Cubs. Why? His grandfather, Paul Schnieders, pitched for the Cubs in the 1950s. "It's a family tradition; I've been a Cubs fan all my life," Patrick said.

Even Cardinal fans can appreciate this. He gets a pass, don't you think?)

Lehman was a second-team All-State selection, while junior Reid Kesel was honorable mention.

"Those were my top-three guys, numbers-wise," Kilgore said, "but we had so many guys around them who made it all possible."

So, this puts the wraps on KRCG's 2012-13 high school sports season. We've had Student Athletes of the Week and Year, along with a Team of the Season for the fall, winter and spring sports.

Perhaps we should consider one final honor --- the Sports Program of the Year. If there were one, it would be an easy choice --- Fatima. The school won seven district championships, had four top-four finishes, and captured two state championships.

The Year of the Comet, indeed.

"It was just an unbelievable run," Kilgore said. "I hope the school and the community gets an opportunity to experience it again. I'm just happy that I was a part of it and our baseball team was able to contribute to the success.

"It was so exciting and I know that sense of excitement, that sense of pride, will be there at the start of the next school year."

Yes, in about 10 weeks, we'll do it all again. Stay tuned, it should be another great ride.

It always is.