O'Connor, which advanced to the state semifinals in football, is ending the school year with another impressive playoff run.

The Panthers' baseball team beat Eagle Pass 3-2 in the Region IV-5A final on Friday, earning a berth in the UIL state tournament for the first time since O'Connor opened in 1998.

O'Connor (31-6-2) plays Conroe The Woodlands (36-4) in the Class 5A semifinals at 3 p.m. Friday at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.

Arlington Martin (36-7-1) faces Fort Bend Dulles (31-7) in the other 5A semifinal at noon Friday at Dell Diamond.

The winners meet for the University Interscholastic League state championship at 11:30 a.m. Saturday on the same field.

David Collenback has been O'Connor's head baseball coach since the Panthers' first game in 1999.

It's been rewarding to see this program grow, not only because of how we've improved each season, but because of the relationships I've developed with so many players and their families, Collenback said. I've gotten to know their parents, and my two kids have grown up with these players.

It's gratifying to hear back from so many of them. I've easily had over 300 communications since we beat Eagle Pass, and I'm proud to say I've responded to every one of them. That's what we're here for as coaches, to help kids succeed.

O'Connor has missed playoffs only twice in 15 seasons

Among Collenback's former players is Boone Logan, a 2002 O'Connor graduate who is now a relief pitcher for the New York Yankees.

Boone is getting married and they're having a get-together in Fredericksburg in November, Collenback said. He said he would send a limousine to come pick me up.

In 15 seasons, O'Connor is 303-159-8 and has missed the playoffs only twice. The Panthers reached the third round of the postseason three times before breaking through and winning the regional title with a hard-fought victory against Eagle Pass.

We're a pretty calm team, Collenback said. We don't panic in certain situations. We compete hard and we're not afraid to make mistakes. We feel we can overcome mistakes with the talent that we have.

Located in Helotes, a community on the far northwest side of San Antonio, O'Connor is in the Northside Independent School District.

Even though Helotes has gotten bigger over the years, we still have that small-town mentality, Collenback said. We're a close-knit community. You go to the convenience store and you'll run into somebody you know.

Collenback, 51, graduated from Churchill in 1979 and earned his degree at Trinity in 1984. A three-sport letterman in high school, Collenback played football and baseball at Trinity.

Collenback was interim baseball coach at Marshall, which is also in the NISD, for 13 games in 1998 after Hector Rodriguez resigned to go to Corpus Christi Carroll.The Rams went 6-7 under Collenback, who has a 309-166-8 career record.

Panthers pitcher has signed with Texas A&M

O'Connor is led by senior pitchers Justin Garcia (12-1, four saves) and Mark Ecker (7-2), senior left fielder Kent Corso,senior second baseman Zach Davenportand junior right fielder Zach Galm.

Ecker and Garcia have signed with Texas A&M and St. Mary's, respectively. Ecker is the team's top hitter with a .448 batting average and seven home runs, and Garcia is batting .413 and has two homers.

Galm led the city in home runs with 12 this season, and Corso (.395) had seven homers.

Garcia, Ecker and Davenport are the team captains.

Justin gets the guys going and Davenport is right behind him, Collenback said. Ecker is a leader by example.

The Panthers' other starters are sophomore catcher Gavin Johnson, senior first baseman Daniel Cruz, junior shortstop Jose Rodriguez, junior third baseman Dillon Stumpf and junior center fielder Billy Craft.

Perennial power Corpus Christi Moody is the only other South Texas team that advanced to the state tournament, which starts Wednesday.

With the exception of the 3A state tournament, which will be played at Disch-Falk Field in Austin, all semifinal and championship games in the UIL's other four classifications are scheduled for Dell Diamond.

Moody (32-6-1) plays Whitehouse (31-8) in the 4A semifinals at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Tomball (33-4) plays Wichita Falls Rider (32-8) in the other 4A semifinal at 3 p.m. Thursday.

The 4A championship game is set for 7 p.m. Friday.
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