EDWARDSVILLE — The Alton Redbirds made their chances at a Southwestern Conference title a little tougher Tuesday at Tom Pile Field in Edwardsville.
The Birds couldn't muster anything against the Tigers, falling 4-0 in the anticipated SWC clash. With the loss Alton slipped to 17-4 overall and 5-2 on the league slate. It snapped a six-game winning streak for the Redbirds. EHS improved to 21-1 and 8-0 in the SWC. It was the Tigers' second straight win after suffering their first loss of the year to DeSmet on Friday.
“I thought we played well, it just didn't turn out in our favor today,” Alton head coach Todd Haug said.
Edwardsville received a gutsy outing from starting pitcher Jake Garella and watched center fielder Collin Clayton muscle up for a three-run homer in the fifth inning to highlight its day.
“I thought Jake was outstanding today,” EHS head coach Tim Funkhouser said. “He didn't have his great breaking pitch in the first inning, but sure enough he found it right after that and he threw some good fastballs, too. What a competitor he was to come out of that, because he threw some pitches early on and I thought, 'Man, this might not be his day.' To overcome that isn't easy to do, so it showed some mental toughness.”
As for Clayton, Funkhouser praised his progression this year.
“He's gotten a lot stronger,” Funkhouser said. “You can tell how the ball comes off his bat, it's a lot different than last year. He's got the ability to get more extra base hits. You can just tell his swing is getting more efficient and he's starting to be able to spray the balls into the gaps and he's had three home runs similar to that (one today).”
Alton threatened early, getting a leadoff double from Derrick Allen. Allen moved to third on Steven Nguyen's ground out. A walk to Bryan Hudson put two on with one out, but Garella struck out the next two batters to get out of it unscathed.
Edwardsville finally broke the scoreless tie in the third. Bailey Zimmer singled through the middle off of Alton starter Ben Cusac and Mitchell Krebs reached on an error to put the first two runners on.
After Dylan Burris sacrificed Zimmer's runner Kaden Burns and Krebs up to second and third, Burns was able to score on Jordan Hovey's ground out.
AHS second baseman Jacob Skrabacz made a nifty play going up the middle to get Hovey and it keep Krebs from scoring. Cusac then got Clayton to ground out to get out of it only down 1-0.
The Birds attempted to tie it in the fourth. Catcher Aaron Bonnell singled to right and advanced to second on an error and Drake Hampton walked to put two on with two outs, but this time it was Krebs, EHS' second baseman, making a diving play and throwing out Matt Hopkins to keep Alton off the scoreboard.
“In every game, and this is what we always tell our boys, you are in search of the big play, the big pitch and the big hit,” Haug said. “If two of the three or three of the three can end up on your side you're usually going to win that ball game. We made some big plays and we both made some big pitches and they got the big hit.”
That big hit came in the bottom of the fifth. Reliever Nick Cauley came on in the fourth for the Redbirds and retired the Tigers 1-2-3, following an Aaron Jackson hit. He returned in the fifth and got two quick outs, but then walked Burris and allowed a hit to Hovey to bring Clayton to the plate.
The EHS center fielder turned on a pitch and yanked a three-run homer over the left field fence. It was exactly the cushion Garella needed.
“That made me feel a lot more comfortable on the mound and when I saw it I knew it was gone,” Garella said. “It was a great swing and I was happy to see it go out.”
Haug couldn't fault his pitching. He credited Clayton.
“No complaints with our pitching,” Haug said. “Clayton's a good hitter and hit a good pitch. He executed our game plan. I thought we played well, it just didn't turn out in our favor today.”
The Redbirds loaded the bases in the seventh, but were unable to scratch anything across in the seventh.
The loss drops Alton two games behind the Tigers in the SWC race and it could get even more interesting for the Birds in the league standings on Thursday.
Belleville East will visit Gordon Moore Park at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, concluding the rivals' first meeting of the season which is tied 4-4 in the 11th inning. It was suspended in Belleville due to the lack of lights.
A second game between the Redbirds and Lancers will start after the conclusion of the first.
“That's interesting, never done that before,” Haug said. “You think you see everything and then you come across this. It's a very pivotal game for East and us and we're going to put our best foot forward and try to win two.”
And as for the Edwardsville and Alton rivalry, there is a good chance Round 3 could take place in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional finals. Time will tell, but both squads will be ready.
“There's always that little bit of extra with that rivalry,” Garella said. “(We'll) probably (see them again) and we will bring that same concentration and I think our guys will do a good job of staying focused and putting good at-bats on whoever (pitcher) we get.”
EDWARDSVILLE 4, ALTON 0
Alton 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 3 2
Edwardsville 0 0 1 0 3 0 X — 4 5 1
ALTON (17-4, 5-2) — Derrick Allen 1-3 2B BB, Bryan Hudson 0-2 BB SB, Aaron Bonnell 1-1 2 BBs, Drake Hampton 0-2 BB, Jacob Skrabacz 1-2 BB.
LP — Ben Cusac 3.0IP 2H 1R 0ER 2BB 0K
Nick Cauley 2.0IP 3H 3R 3ER 1BB 2K
Jacob St. Peters 1.0IP 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 0K
EDWARDSVILLE (21-1, 8-0) — Dylan Burris 0-1 BB SAC, Jordan Hovey 1-2 BB SB RBI, Collin Clayton 1-2 HR BB 3 RBIs, Aaron Jackson 1-3, Fahd Shakeel 1-3, Bailey Zimmer 1-2.
WP — Jake Garella 6.1IP 3H 0R 0ER 4BB 6K
SV — Jackson 0.2IP 0H 0R 0ER 2BB 0K