EDWARDSVILLE — It was fitting a player with the nickname of “Scrappy” got the big hit for the Alton Redbirds Thursday.
Trailing 3-0 entering the bottom of the seventh inning to the Quincy Blue Devils in a Class 4A Edwardsville Regional semifinal game, the Redbirds scored four runs without registering an out to dramatically beat the Blue Devils 4-3.
Catcher Aaron Bonnell led off with a momentum-changing solo home run and Jacob “Scrappy” Skrabacz later poked a two-run single through the left side of the infield to cap the comeback.
The win sends Alton to 30-6, while a stunned Quincy ends its season at 16-14.
“That was definitely the biggest win of my career here at Alton,” AHS head coach Todd Haug said. “I told the boys that this is what's beautiful about the game of baseball. Over the course of the game it's a real love hate relationship. If you play 21 hard outs and seven strong innings you can figure out a way and you can go home happy.”
Skrabacz definitely went home happy Thursday. Doused in water by his teammates during post game interviews, the smile from his face could not be erased.
“It was a rough game down 3-0 and then when Bono leads off the inning with a homer and then Drake (Hampton) hits a shot to the wall it's easy to build off of,” Skrabacz said. “After (Bonnell's homer) a lot of people in the dugout knew we were going to comeback and win that one.”
While Skrabacz's hit sent the Redbirds home victorious, Bonnell's blast won't soon be forgotten. It sparked the Alton surge.
“I came up to lead off the inning and I knew I was going to have to start it off because we were really dead in the dugout,” the junior Bonnell said. “I'm obviously not trying to hit a home run there — I don't think you ever are — but I was just trying to get a good pitch to hit and I knew I was down two strikes. I was just looking for a pitch to foul off, have a good at-bat and I just got one down in the zone and hit it right out and it just got the dugout up.”
Hampton followed by tattooing a double into center field and Steven Nguyen walked to keep the rally going with no outs. Carter Hayden followed by laying down a sacrifice bunt, but the throw to first was off the mark, allowing Hampton to score, Nguyen to motor to third and Hayden to advance to second.
That brought Skrabacz to the dish and he stroked a fastball through the left side for the game winner and Alton dashed to the field to celebrate a win that was nearly a season-ending loss.
Haug said the timely turnaround was all on his players, there were no “rah rah” speeches in the dugout.
“This is all them,” he said. “They came together. There wasn't any big rally cry. We had been there, we had been close, but we really decided to take the bat off our shoulders and really start trying to put solid contact on it and seventh inning, better late than never.”
It looked bleak for the Birds for much of the game. Quincy climbed on the board in the second when Johnny Reckers reached on an error to lead things off. Masen Melton then drove him in with a RBI double into right center, making it 1-0 in favor of the Blue Devils. A two-out single from pitcher Drake Green plated Melton and upped it to 2-0.
Overshadowed by Alton's late rally were two solid plays in the field in the third. Hayden made a nifty play on a bunt by Ben Maro to throw him out and Matt Hopkins snagged a running catch in left on Matt Tossik's drive in front of a pair of singles. It allowed AHS to escape the frame unscathed.
“They really played good defense behind Ben (Cusac) early on and I don't want that to get lost,” Haug said. “It could have been a lot worse, they were hitting him pretty hard and until we could get to the pen our defense kept us in it.”
The Blue Devils struck again in the fifth. A leadoff walk to Melton was followed by a double off the bat of Ben Schroeder and like that it was 3-0.
Alton went to the bullpen at that point and called on Jacob St. Peters.
St. Peters left Schroeder stranded at second in the fourth and pitched around a bases loaded jam in the fifth. Overall Quincy left nine runners stranded on base in the game.
“Jake came in and did an absolutely outstanding job,” Haug said. “He's got tremendous stuff and he comes at the right handers at a very nasty angle. We talked to him about between the ears, focus, and he did. He's our unsung hero today.”
The Redbird knocked on the door in the fourth, fifth and sixth against Green, but couldn't get it done.
Bryan Hudson hit a one-out double off the center field fence in the fourth, but was left on third. In the fifth Nguyen advanced to third after reaching on a fielder's choice, but was stranded there and in the sixth a leadoff single from Derrick Allen saw him reach second where he remained.
It wasn't until the seventh that the Birds solved Green and Skrabacz said it was just a matter of staying confident at the plate.
“I had good at-bats on him all day and hit the ball pretty good, I just hit the ball right at people,” Skrabacz said. “After seeing him a couple times we were pretty much on him.”
Now it sets the stage for arguably the most anticipated game of the year, as Alton draws No. 1 seed Edwardsville in the regional final. The two teams met in the title tilt a year ago and the Tigers pulled out a 1-0 victory against the Redbirds with phenom southpaw Hudson on the mound.
With many of the key contributors back in both lineups from last season, but as improved players, on paper it looks like it could be another classic. EHS beat Alton twice this season, 4-0 and 6-1 on its way to a 14-0 Southwestern Conference record.
Hudson will be back on the mound for AHS against the 34-1 Tigers, the No. 1 team in the state according to Prep Baseball Report. Alton is No. 11 in the Prep Baseball Report rankings, while Hudson is listed as their top pitcher in Illinois.
It's anybody's game according to Haug.
“At this point, given what just happened in the last 20 minutes — I have no idea,” Haug said. “I can tell you there are going to be two good teams come out and we're going to do our best to prepare and play good baseball.”
As for that regional loss to the Tigers last year, Bonnell said the Redbirds have tried to block that one out.
“We try not to think about it too much, because it brings up bad memories,” Bonnell said. “I think it's definitely there, a bad feeling we don't want to feel again, so we use that as kind of a fire to keep us from doing that again.”
Edwardsville and Alton will square off at 11 a.m. Saturday at Tom Pile Field in front of what should be a capacity crowd.
CLASS 4A EDWARDSVILLE REGIONAL
ALTON 4, QUINCY 3
Quincy 020 100 0 — 3 8 1
Alton 000 000 4 — 4 7 1
ALTON (30-6) — Derrick Allen 2-3, Bryan Hudson 1-3 2B, Aaron Bonnell 2-3 HR RBI, Drake Hampton 1-2 2B BB, Steven Nguyen 0-2 BB SB, Carter Hayden 0-2 SAC, Jacob Skrabacz 1-3 2 RBIs.
WP — Jacob St. Peters 4.0IP 3H 0R 0ER 1BB 3K 1HBP
Ben Cusac 3.0IP 5H 3R 1ER 2BB 0K
QUINCY (16-14) — Ben Maro 0-3 BB, Matt Tossik 1-4, Hunter Wienhoff 3-4, Johnny Reckers 1-4 SB, Masen Melton 1-1 2B BB IBB RBI, Ben Schroeder 1-3 2B RBI, Drake Green 1-2 HBP RBI, Derek Green 0-2 SAC.
LP — Drake Green 7.0IP 7H 4R 3ER 2BB 6K