The Oak Grove baseball team has a way of turning negatives into positives.

The Oak Grove baseball team has a way of turning negatives into positives.

The Panthers suffered a three-game losing streak and lost six of nine early in the season after starting the year 4-0. That slump coincided with a tough stretch that included defeats to larger schools like Blue Springs South, Lafayette-Wildwood and Rockwood Summit.

Oak Grove followed that skid with 10 consecutive wins, which led the Panthers into another bump – a 3-2 home loss to Excelsior Springs in the regular-season finale that prevented them from claiming the Missouri River Valley Conference West championship outright.

Since then, Oak Grove’s outscored its four postseason opponents 28-5 and advanced to the Class 4 final four for the first time since 1994.

“I think it definitely kind of opened our eyes that we weren’t invincible,” said Cole Doherty, who earned the win on the mound for the Panthers in their 3-2 triumph over St. Pius X in the state quarterfinals. “We realized even the best team might not win on any given day. You’ve still got to step on the field and play.”

At 7 tonight, the eighth-ranked Panthers (21-7) will meet Boonville at T.R. Hughes Ballpark in the St. Louis suburb of O’Fallon. Top-ranked Westminster Christian Academy (31-3) and No. 2 Logan-Rogersville (24-3) will meet in the other semifinal at 4 p.m. with the championship slated for 1 p.m. Saturday (third-place game is 10 a.m. Saturday).

“We’re extremely focused right now,” Oak Grove coach Kirk Sears said. “I think (our players) are enjoying it a lot. But I think they feel like there’s more they would like to accomplish. They’re not just happy to be going to the final four. It sounds like they want to go down there and they want to compete to the best of their ability.”

Boonville (17-8) also battled through some early-season missteps, starting 6-6 before winning 11 of their next 13.

Ace Conner Matson will get the start for the Panthers. The senior is 7-2 on the season with an earned run average of 0.89 with 57 strikeouts in 55 1/3 innings. He’ll face a Boonville lineup that’s anchored by Jalen Poindexter, who is hitting .395 with a team-leading 32 hits, 12 doubles, three home runs and 31 RBIs.

“I know (Boonville’s) a team that’s extremely hot right now,” Sears said. “They play pretty good defense and they’ve got two or three real good arms.”

Sears said his squad’s focus has never wavered this season. The Panthers came into the season with one goal after last year’s 9-3 defeat to Savannah in the Class 3 quarterfinals: Make the trip across the state to compete for a state championship. Now, the Panthers get their chance.

“We’ve pretty much kept the same mentality all year,” said Doherty, who is hitting .301. “We’ve been working hard. After last year losing in the quarterfinals, we really wanted to take it a step further and make it to the final four, so this year we’ve really been working hard. Now we’re hoping that we can have a lot of fun and win a couple games down there.”

Follow Shawn Garrison on Twitter: @GarrisonEJC