ALTON — Sometimes a baseball game can come down to a signature moment, meaning the difference between a win and a loss. Tuesday at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park was one of those days.
The Alton Redbirds (10-2, 2-1) slipped by the Belleville West Maroons (4-10, 1-3) 1-0 in Southwestern Conference action and it was senior Matt Hopkins taking advantage of that signature moment.
In the bottom of the sixth inning Alton catcher Aaron Bonnell was hit by a pitch with two outs and a 1-2 count. Bonnell gave way to courtesy runner Noah Rathgeb and Hopkins did the rest, tattooing a ball into the right center field gap for a triple and plating Rathgeb for the game's lone run.
“In my last at-bat he hung an offspeed pitch and I capitalized,” Hopkins said. “I was just thinking about driving a ball into the gap and it turned out well.”
The minimal offense was due to the superb work of all three pitchers that threw on Tuesday. Alton's Bryan Hudson and Drake Hampton combined for the shutout with solid performances.
Hudson tossed 85 pitches over 5.1 innings, scattering three hits, while striking out eight, walking two and hitting a batter. Hampton relieved him, earning the victory by working 1.2 innings, fanning two and surrendering one infield hit.
On the other side, West senior Matt Klosterman was equally as impressive, going six innings, throwing 104 pitches and allowing three hits and one run while fanning four, walking five and plunking a pair of batters.
Klosterman pitched out of a second and third situation in the second inning and a bases loaded scenario in the third.
First-year Maroons' head coach Todd Baltz was proud of Klosterman's effort and like any game, he understood someone had to lose and unfortunately on Tuesday it was his squad.
“He matched (Hudson) as much as we could ask him to do,” Baltz said. “In this environment with everybody here and everybody's heard all about (Hudson) and (Klosterman) went out there and gutted it out. He matched him pitch for pitch for six innings. He's our Tuesday guy that goes up against the other team's best.
“Nothing negative on this game, I thought it was a great played game on both sides. Two quality battled it out, a one-run game, that's what baseball's all about. You hate to see (Klosterman) go home a loser in a game like this, but that's baseball.”
There were 16 scouts on hand to watch the 6-foot-8 lefty Hudson and while he was solid like always, Alton head coach Todd Haug raved about his ace's relief on Tuesday.
“Outstanding effort from Drake Hampton in relief,” Haug said. “And an outstanding performance by Bryan Hudson. That's a gutty performance by our ace on one day's short rest. He kept us in the ball game and gave us every opportunity and then Drake comes in and he's just a little bulldog. He comes at you from 12 different angles and he's just an ultimate competitor.”
Baltz thought the Maroons had a good approach against Hudson. In the second inning Wyatt Parker stroked an opposite field double to right field and Jack Lanxon flared a single to left for rare back-to-back hits against the southpaw. Spencer Piquard collected the other hit off of him with a single through the left side of the infield in the sixth. Unfortunately, West was unable to capitalize.
“We talked about staying back and just taking nice, easy swings and get started a little earlier and our guys bought into it,” Baltz said. “We got on, we got a few hits, got guys in position and then we just couldn't get the hits when we needed them, but I thought we played well.”
For Hopkins, it was nice to log another solid day at the plate after a slow start. On Friday he produced a two-hit day with three RBIs. He was figured to be an offensive pillar in the lineup so he's happy to finally be coming through.
He credits his favorite tune, Sister Christian by Night Ranger, as his catalyst. He sings the song in his head to ease his mind at the dish and he's been doing it during his entire Redbird career.
“Ever since freshman year I've singing Sister Christian in the batter's box and I'm sticking with it,” Hopkins said with a chuckle. “I was in Collinsville (as a freshman) and for some reason I just sang Sister Christian and it stuck in my head that day. I went 4 for 4 with three triples. That was JV and the game after that I got moved up to varsity, so it was kind of a big deal for me. It's my song I guess.”
Haug was happy to see Hopkins come through.
“In this case we got the big hit from Hop and he's starting to see the ball nicely,” Haug said. “He put a good swing on it.”
It was nerve-racking trudging through the scoreless affair according to Hopkins, but it's something he and his Redbird mates know wins like this are a necessity if they want to be in the conference race at the end of the year.
“If we're going to do well in the conference then we have to compete against every team like we're playing against Edwardsville,” he said. “It was just good to come up big and get the game winning RBI.”
Alton is back in action at 4:30 p.m. Thursday in SWC play at East St. Louis.
ALTON 1, BELLEVILLE WEST 0
WEST 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 — 0 4 0
ALTON 0 0 0 0 0 0 X — 1 3 0
ALTON (10-2, 2-1) — Steven Nguyen 0-2 SAC, Derrick Allen 2-3, Bryan Hudson 0-2 BB, Aaron Bonnell 0-1 2 HBPs, Matt Hopkins 0-1 3B BB RBI, Brendan Phillips 0-2 BB, Jacob Skrabacz 0-0 2 Bbs.
WP — Drake Hampton 1.2IP 1H 0R 0ER 0BB 2K
Hudson 5.1IP 3H 0R 0ER 2BB 8K 1HBP
WEST (4-10, 1-3) — Cal Kossina 0-3 BB, Spencer Piquard 1-2 SAC, Jacob Wilson 0-2 SAC, Luke Glaeser 0-2 BB, Wyatt Parker 1-3 2B, Jack Lanxon 2-2 HBP, Andrew Konya 0-1 2 SACs.
LP — Matt Klosterman 6.0IP 3H 1R 1ER 5BB 4K 2HBP