JERSEYVILLE — The Alton Redbird baseball program has been around for 93 years. Thursday the Birds set the new program record in wins and it was fitting that arguably its best player ever helped lead them there.
Senior southpaw Bryan Hudson pitched Alton past the Jersey Panthers 1-0 at Ken Schell Field, while also driving in the lone run at the plate. The win elevated the Redbirds to 29-6, surpassing the record 28-win mark reached in 2001 and 2013. Hudson also tied the individual season record in wins Thursday, improving to 10-1. The Panthers slipped to 17-14 with the loss.
“Ninety-three years, it’s been 93 years if you go back in our history since Alton baseball started,” AHS head coach Todd Haug said. “We don’t take anything away from our past, we’ve had some tremendous teams at Alton High, but we’re savoring this one. This is a really big one for us — 29.”
Hudson added, “It means a lot more than what people think. We’ve been working really hard for a really long time, before the season, preseason workouts even. This was our goal. We made history.”
The Panthers sure didn't make it easy. Jersey starter Crick Kimble did his best to match Hudson on Thursday.
While Hudson went the distance, scattering three hits, walking three and fanning 16 on 113 pitches, Kimble threw all seven, surrendering four hits, while walking three, striking out six and allowing just the one run on 88 pitches.
“What’s really going to get overshadowed in this game is just how good Crick Kimble is,” Jersey coach Darren Perdun said. “If Hudson’s the best pitcher in the area, I’d say Crick Kimble has got to be a No. 2.
“Our kid pitched well, but unfortunately when your going against a guy like Hudson all you have to do is score one run. Our kids battled at the plate and we had some chances. You walk away from this one and you say, hey, we just got beat by somebody that is better than us.”
There were plenty of scouts on hand to watch Hudson and the Birds in their regular season finale. Rain pushed the game back a day, but it didn't diminish Hudson's performance.
“Bryan did a variety of different things extremely, extremely well,” Haug said. “I thought he got stronger as the game went on velocity wise and rotating the breaking ball. He fielded his position really well, made a couple nice catches and also picked a guy off. It was a tremendous effort, from my opinion, the best player in the state.”
The two squads each had chances. Both Alton and Jersey had runners reach second to no avail in the first inning. AHS left a runner stranded on second in the the second also, then in the third Matt Hopkins singled, stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch where he was stranded.
Kimble helped himself out with a one-out double in the bottom of the third. Jake Varble then walked, but Hudson spoiled the rally by picking Kimble off at second.
He admitted he works on his stellar pickoff move regularly.
“We work on it every time I pitch,” Hudson said. “We've been working on them since the beginning of the year, even preseason.”
The Redbirds finally struck pay dirt in the fifth. Hopkins came through with a single to center field and Hudson followed with the hammer. He spanked a ball just inside the right field line for a double. With two outs, Hopkins left on contact and was able to score prior to the throw home.
Jersey catcher Hunter Bryant threw down to second and nailed Hudson, but the damage was already done.
“It was a great testament to (Kimble) to come out against a great swinging team like Alton and hold them to just one run on a ball that's fair by maybe a foot,” Perdun said. “That was a pretty close play at the plate. We didn't have a good throw on the relay or we still might be playing, you never know.”
Hopkins was the only player on either team to produce a multi-hit game, going 2 for 3 on the day. Haug was happy to see the offense from Hopkins, who has struggled at times at the plate. He thinks his senior outfielder and his Redbirds are trending up as they now prepare for the postseason.
“Another week off and Steven Ngyuen (shoulder) is back,” Haug said. “There are positives and we're going to say Matty Hopkins is trending massively upward and at this point a week isn't going to hurt him.”
The Panthers threatened once more in the sixth. Kimble coaxed a leadoff walk and got to third with two outs on Bryant's single, but Hudson fanned Chace Tallman to end the rally unscathed.
The Birds are now idle until 4:30 p.m. on May 28 when they battle Quincy in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional. A win would move Alton into the regional finals, likely against the host Tigers. EHS is the top seed, while AHS is the No. 2 seed.
Jersey still has Collinsville on the docket Friday and then plays host to the 3A Jersey Regional, where the Panthers will await the winner of Monday's game between Marquette and Triad on Wednesday.
For the Redbirds, Hopkins said now that they have the school record for wins, the focus turns to tacking on one victory at a time to that new benchmark. Quincy is the first obstacle.
“From now on it's one win at a time, so we're going to take it 30, 31, 32, all the way to state,” Hopkins said.
ALTON 1, JERSEY 0
Alton 000 010 0 — 1 4 1
Jersey 000 000 0 — 0 3 0
ALTON (29-6) — Matt Hopkins 2-3 SB, Bryan Hudson 1-2 2B BB RBI, Matt Bower SB, Jacob Kanallakan 0-2 BB, Aaron Bonnell 1-2 BB, Carter Hayden 0-2 SAC.
WP — Hudson 7.0IP 3H 0R 0ER 3BB 16K
JERSEY (17-14) — Jacob Witt 1-3 SB, Crick Kimble 1-2 2B BB, Jake Varble 0-2 BB, Drake Kanallakan 0-2 BB, Hunter Bryant 1-3 SB.
LP — Kimble 7.0IP 4H 1R 1ER 3BB 6K