ALTON — The Alton Redbirds watched their bats struggle Wednesday at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park.
The result was a 4-2 loss to visiting Wheaton Warrenville South. It was the first loss of the season for the Redbirds, who dropped to 6-1. The Tigers picked up their first win to move to 1-3 on the young campaign.
South's 6-foot-5 senior southpaw Chris Simpson had a lot to do with Alton's offensive woes. A Division I recruit with interest from schools like Illinois State and Western Michigan, Simpson went the distance, fanning 10, walking four and scattering four hits while surrendering two runs, both earned on 118 pitches.
Alton head coach Todd Haug gave credit to Simpson, but was also disappointed in his team's approach at the plate.
“Credit to him, but we need to go back to the drawing board with some of our approaches,” Haug said. “Some of our guys have gotten into some bad habits we will say and we need to get back to some fundamentals in the cages. We've seen a couple good pitchers here in a couple days and there are some adjustments that need to be made.”
Wednesday's loss came on the heels of a Tuesday stalemate at Belleville East. The Birds played the Lancers to a 4-4 tie in the ninth inning and saw the game suspended due to darkness. That game will be concluded on April 30 prior to the scheduled game between Alton and East at Moore Park.
The Redbirds ran into D-I recruit Brady Schanuel of the Lancers on Tuesday.
The caliber of the opposing pitchers the last two games doesn't sway Haug's disappointment though.
“These are two Division I pitchers the last couple of days and when you're in a position where we're making a little name for ourselves we're going to see everybody's best,” Haug said. “We'll learn from this and we'll go back to the drawing board.”
South head coach Nate Roskuszka was pleased to see the effort from Simpson on Wednesday. With unfavorable weather in Chicagoland, the Tigers haven't seen much time on the field, so the win over the Redbirds was welcomed.
“He looked good and he was pretty fresh,” Roskuszka said. “He had only thrown three or four innings his first time out last week and I know he was anxious to get back out there and pick our team up, we had kind of struggled and were 0-3 coming into this one. He was coming out with a little chip on his shoulder and hoping to carry us a little bit and he did just that.”
South was able to strike early with three consecutive hits off of Alton starter Matt Hopkins. A flare to right, an infield single and a RBI single to center by catcher Justin Kelly put the Tigers in front 1-0.
They went on the attack again in the top of the third. South's Eric Glitz led off with a single and stole second and a double by Ben Flores scored him and chased Hopkins from the game.
Jacob St. Peters came on in relief and Kelly swatted a double first thing to score Flores and up to 3-0 in favor of the Tigers. Jeran Simpson then singled him home to make it 4-0.
St. Peters struck out the next two South batters looking, but an errant pickoff throw let Jeran Simpson motor to third. A wild pitch allowed him to score, but in his haste he strode past the plate and the Redbirds were able to take him for the third out.
“We kind of let that inning get away from us with that last run and missing home plate,” Roskuszka said. “It was kind of a momentum changer, because right after that we come out and kick it and they get a couple runs.”
Brendan Phillips singled to start the bottom of the third and when Derrick Allen followed with an infield hit, the throw to first went wild and allowed Phillips to advance to third. Noah Rathgeb drew a walk to load the bases.
After Simpson recorded the next two outs, Bryan Hudson worked a full count and drew a walk to force home Phillips. A wild pitch let Allen score and cut the deficit to 4-2.
That proved to be the offense for the game as Simpson settled down again and the Alton bullpen locked down the South hitters.
Ben Cusac came on for the fourth and the fifth for AHS, retiring all six batters he faced, fanning the first five of them. Drake Hampton pitched the final two innings, surrendering a lead off hit to Jeran Simpson in the sixth, but striking out the next three Tiger batters. He sat them down in order in the seventh.
“Both Ben and Drake Hampton came in and gave us quality innings and kept us in the ball game and several times we had some of our big bats up with guys on and a chance to get back in the game. We were always in striking distance,” Haug said. “In this game you play so much that's all you hope, is to stay within striking distance coming to the end.”
There is no rest for the Birds, who are back at it against Southwestern Conference rival Edwardsville at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at Moore Park, weather pending. Haug said it's just another game.
“For us every conference game is big,” he said. “I don't think Edwardsville looks at this than anything more than a conference game. We do not look at than anything more than a conference game as well. They're all big, they're all important. We'll see Edwardsville multiple times this year and if we're fortunate enough and they're fortunate enough we'll see them three times, but this is just a ball game. It's a ball game in early April.”
WHEATON SOUTH 4, ALTON 2
WHEATON SOUTH 1 0 3 0 0 0 0 — 4 6 3
ALTON 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 — 2 4 1
ALTON (6-1) — Steven Nguyen 1-3 2B BB, Drake Hampton 0-3 BB, Bryan Hudson 0-2 BB RBI, Aaron Bonnell 1-3, Brendan Phillips 1-3, Derrick Allen 1-1, Noah Rathgeb 0-2 BB.
LP — Matt Hopkins 2.0IP 6H 3R 3ER 0BB 2K
Jacob St. Peters 1.0IP 2H 1R 1ER 0BB 2K
Ben Cusac 2.0IP 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 5K
Hampton 2.0IP 1H 0R 0ER 0BB 3K
WHEATON SOUTH (1-3) — Eric Glitz 2-4 SB, Ben Flores 2-3 2B RBI, Justin Kelly 2-3 2B 2 RBIs, Jeran Simpson 2-3 SB RBI, Jack Demsher 1-3.
WP — Chris Simpson 7.0IP 4H 2R 2ER 4BB 10K