O'FALLON — It wasn't the day the Alton Redbirds had been hoping for when they set out for O'Fallon on Tuesday.
The host Panthers throttled AHS 11-2 in a Southwestern Conference affair at Blazier Field. The loss dropped Alton to 28-6 overall on the season and 11-3 in the SWC, while O'Fallon improved to 24-9 and 11-3. The two teams finished in a tie for second in the league behind champion Edwardsville which went 14-0. It was the first undefeated campaign in the SWC since the Tigers did it in 1998, a year where they went 40-0 and won a state title.
The Redbirds are left still tied for the program record in wins, tying previous 28-win seasons in 2001 and 2013. Alton will look to set the new benchmark at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday when it travels to Jerseyville to battle the Panthers in the regular season finale. Lefty phenom Bryan Hudson will take the mound against Jersey.
“It was a tough game, a tough day,” Alton head coach Todd Haug said of the loss to O'Fallon. “It is what it is and we'll bounce back tomorrow.”
While Haug chose to hold Hudson back against the Panthers. OTHS head coach Jason Portz threw his horse in Chris Holba and it paid off.
The senior righthander bound for East Carolina went the distance, fanning nine, walking two and scattering three hits while allowing two earned runs on 92 pitches. Only in the third inning when the Redbirds plated their two runs did Holba face more than the minimum amount of batters.
“It seems like every time out with Chris we have one of those innings where he's not quite as in command of the inning and then behind him a couple things dog pile a little bit and then it's a poor inning,” Portz said. “In a tight ball game those are some things you've got to clean up. I think if we can clean some of that stuff up he's really capable of dominating in some of our games.”
On the other side, Alton starter Nick Cauley only threw 30 pitches before he was lifted with a twinge in his arm. It's unknown how severe the injury may be at this point.
“It was just tightness and a little bit of sharp pain in his elbow at this point,” Haug said. “We will have to reevaluate and check him tomorrow.”
The Panthers tallied two runs against Cauley in the top of the first with a pair of walks, a hit by pitch and an AHS error plaguing the inning for the Birds. Jacob Holl and Holba had RBIs.
Cauley came out with an 0-2 count to the second batter of the second inning in favor of Jacob St. Peters.
O'Fallon tacked on two more runs charged to St. Peters, despite having two runners gunned down at the plate by second baseman Jacob Skrabacz and shortstop Drake Hampton. Bradley Harrison of OTHS banged out a RBI double in the inning.
Alton rallied in the third. Derrick Allen singled through the middle for the first AHS hit of the game. Allen stole second and then a two-out walk to Carter Hayden was followed by a flare to left off the bat of Matt Hopkins, scoring Allen to cut it to 4-1.
Hudson then coaxed a walk and when a third strike to Jacob Kanallakan squirted to the back stop for a wild pitch, Hayden raced home to cut it to 4-2.
Unfortunately it proved to be all the Redbirds could muster against the dominate Holba.
“He's a competitor and throws multiple pitches for strikes, good for him,” Haug said. “He's well schooled and he was very impressive today.”
O'Fallon enjoyed its biggest inning in the fourth, plating four more to balloon its lead to 8-2. After two quick outs, the Panthers strung together four consecutive hits. Catcher Bradley Snyder cracked a RBI double and the biggest hit came off of Harrison's bat. He blasted a homer to right that clipped a tree on its way to the Dairy Queen parking lot across the street. A customer in front of the building hoisted the ball up for everyone in the ballpark to see.
Portz was glad to see the shot from his talented junior who is committed to attend Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
“He hasn't a home run since early in the season and it was nice to see him get through a ball like that,” Portz said of Harrison. “He's done so much for us as a hitter just trying to be unselfish and hit with two strikes. He could be a guy who could lower his batting average about 40 or 50 points if he wanted to swing from his heels and he'd probably have six or eight home runs. He's such an unselfish player, he gives himself up to move runners and does all the little things our team needs.
“That was definitely one of the farther balls I've seen one of our guys hit here. Those are either one, two or three scoops over there at Dairy Queen. We'll call that one a three scooper.”
O'Fallon tacked on three more runs in the sixth, highlighted by a RBI double from Holba.
As for Alton, Haug said the Birds will look to rebound on Wednesday on the road.
“It's a big day tomorrow to get a full 35 games in and that's what we're going to do,” he said.
O'FALLON 11, ALTON 2
Alton 002 000 0 — 2 3 1
O'Fallon 220 403 X — 11 10 1
ALTON (28-6, 11-3) — Carter Hayden 0-2 BB, Matt Hopkins 1-3 RBI, Bryan Hudson 0-2 BB, Derrick Allen 2-3.
LP — Nick Cauley 1.1IP 1H 2R 1ER 3BB 2K 1HBP
Jacob St. Peters 2.2IP 6H 6R 6ER 1BB 1K 2HBP
Hopkins 2.0IP 3H 3R 3ER 1BB 1K
O'FALLON (24-9, 11-3) — Dillon Weiss 2-3 BB 3 SBs, Nick Crabtree 1-3 BB RBI, Bradley Snyder 2-2 2B BB HBP SB 2 RBIs, Bradley Harrison 2-3 2B HR BB 4 RBIs, Chris Holba 1-3 2B HBP 2 RBIs, Jacob Holl 2-4 2B 2 RBIs, Camden Bauer 0-2 BB, Kyle Van Beveren 0-1 HBP.
WP — Holba 7.0IP 3H 2R 2ER 2BB 9K