ALTON — The Alton Redbirds did what they needed to do Tuesday at Gordon Moore Park.
Behind the talented arm of 6-foot-8 lefty Bryan Hudson, the Redbirds blanked Southwestern Conference rival O'Fallon 4-0 at home. After suffering a SWC loss to the Edwardsville Tigers on April 2, a win over the Panthers was fairly crucial in keeping the Birds' conference dreams alive.
Alton improved to 13-3 and 4-1 with the win, while O'Fallon slipped to 12-6 and 4-2 with the loss.
Edwardsville bested Collinsville 4-0 on Tuesday to improve to 16-0 and 6-0 in the SWC, so the conference race is heating up. AHS and EHS will meet at Tom Pile Field in Edwardsville at 4:30 p.m. next Tuesday.
But before the Redbirds could worry about that next showdown with the Tigers, they had to take down annual powerhouse O'Fallon and starting pitcher Chris Holba, poised to pitch at East Carolina next season.
Pitting him against the Mizzou recruit and draft prospect Hudson made for some dramatic afternoon baseball.
“It’s the story of the Southwestern Conference this year,” O’Fallon head coach Jason Portz said. “There are a lot of good arms. I thought our kids competed real well and we're going to benefit from seeing that type of pitching.”
The stat lines for the two hurlers were both impressive.
Hudson went the distance, throwing 113 pitches, surrendering two hits, walking six and striking out 14.
On the other side, Holba tossed five innings, fanning seven, walking four and scattering five hits while allowing four runs, but none earned. Bradley Harrison pitched a scoreless inning of relief for the Panthers, too.
Even the 16 scouts on hand for Hudson took notice of Holba, raising the radar guns when the 6-2 righty took the hill.
“Both of them were locked in and the mark of an ace on both sides, we saw both Bryan and Christopher get stronger as the game went on,” Alton skipper Todd Haug said. “Both of them threw well. We just happened to be on the good side.”
Early success allowed the Redbirds to come out on the good side. Alton posted a run without the benefit of a hit in the first inning.
Steven Nguyen coaxed a one-out walk and moved to second when Hudson was hit by a pitch. Wild pitches let Nguyen and Hudson's courtesy runner Brendan Phillips advance and then a passed ball allowed Nguyen to score and Phillips to move to third where he was stranded.
“For us, scratching across a run there early sets the tone,” Haug said. “If you get a run with Bryan, it’s kind of like a touchdown in terms of comfort.”
Alton's 1-0 lead stayed intact until the fifth when the Redbirds scored again.
O'Fallon left a runner stranded on third in the second after an inning-opening AHS error, two runners on in the third and runners on second and third in the fourth.
Hudson pitched around the error and some walks and got some key strikeouts along the way. The Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 hitters in the Panthers' lineup struck out nine times and were 0 for 10 on Tuesday.
“They're key hitters for their lineup and we just figured if we could get them out we'd give it a shot,” Hudson said.
“We've got to come up with some hits in some key situations,” Portz said. “We're competing and we're there, but at some point somebody’s got to get a hit to knock us out of bed. That hasn't happened in the last couple weeks or so, but I'm not down on my guys. We're playing hard and we're really competing.”
Alton added some insurance in the fifth. Jacob Skrabacz earned a leadoff walk and was joined on the bases by Nguyen after a one-out walk, putting runners on first and second. Skrabacz reached base three times Tuesday, while Nguyen had two hits, two runs and reached base four times.
Hudson followed by tattooing a line drive to center which carried out to O'Fallon's Dillon Weiss, but an infield error on Jacob Kanallakan's grounder in the next at-bat kept the inning alive with two outs.
Catcher Aaron Bonnell then placed an infield RBI hit, scoring Skrabacz to make it 2-0. Sophomore Steven Pattan followed by supplying the cushion, lining a two-run single to right field. It was his second hit of the game.
“He's really, really worked hard,” Haug said of Pattan. “He was 130 pounds last year and now he's almost 160 pounds. He tried his best to make the varsity team and he's the type of kid that makes the varsity team and he's got tears in his eyes. He's very fundamentally sound and he's here to stay.”
Pattan said he just didn't want to do too much with his two-out, two-run hit.
“It was big, but I was really just trying to focus on going to right field,” Pattan said. “(Holba’s) throwing decent velocity and (coach) Steve Haug coached me all winter on going to right field, staying back on the ball and really driving it. That’s what I was thinking and it really paid off.”
It proved to be more than enough for Hudson, who struck out seven Panthers over the final three innings. The Redbird southpaw improved to 5-1 on the season and lowered his ERA to 0.57. He's only allowed four runs, three earned, on the season, all against Edwardsville and all in one inning.
“You’re not facing a poor pitcher,” Portz said. “You’re facing Bryan Hudson. He really, really mixes his pitches up well.
“It’s a Southwestern Conference road game against one of the best pitchers in the country. It’s going to be tough sledding some days. Today was one of those days.”
ALTON 4, O'FALLON 0
O'Fallon 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 2 2
Alton 1 0 0 0 3 0 X — 4 6 1
ALTON (13-3, 4-1) — Steven Nguyen 2-2 2B 2 Bbs, Bryan Hudson 0-3 HBP, Aaron Bonnell 1-2 RBI, Steven Pattan 2-3 2 RBIs, Noah Rathgeb 1-3, Jacob Skrabacz 0-1 2 BBs.
WP — Hudson 7.0IP 2H 0R 0ER 6BB 14K
O'FALLON (12-6, 4-2) — Dillon Weiss 0-3 BB, Joe Guithues 0-2 SAC BB, Bradley Harrison 0-2 IBB, Kyle Van Bevern 1-3, Chris Holba 0-2 BB, Jacob Holl 1-3, Nick Crabtree 0-1 2 BBs.
LP — Holba 5.0IP 5H 4R 0ER 4BB 7K 1HBP
Harrison 1.0IP 1H 0R 0ER 1BB 1K