Photo by Bill Roseberry
Pictured are the senior members of the Alton baseball team. In front from left to right are Jonathan Witt, Max Hunter, Matt McDonald, Derrick Allen, Noah Rathgeb, Marcus Schomberg and Devin Colley. In back from left to right are: Aaron Bonnell, Jacob Bozovich, Jacob Kanallakan, Jacob St. Peters, Nicholas Cauley, Sam Ballard and Seth Boschert.
The Alton Redbirds baseball program has become a force to be reckoned with over its recent history.
In head coach Todd Haug's seven seasons at the helm, the Birds are 157-87, they've won 20-plus games in each of the last five seasons and finished 30-7 in 2015, setting a new program benchmark.
Haug expects more success this season, but there are definitely holes to fill.
Gone is a senior class that provided a lot to the '15 campaign. Drake Hampton, Matt Hopkins and Jacob Skrabacz were regulars in the lineup and Ben Cusac and Bryan Hudson helped anchor the pitching staff.
Hudson is arguably the best pitcher ever to play for Alton. He was selected in the third round of the 2015 MLB Amateur Draft by the Chicago Cubs and is currently listed as the 13th best prospect in the organization according to mlb.com.
Haug understands the loss of Hudson will create a buzz early, but assures the Redbirds are ready to reload without the lanky lefty ace.
“That's going to be the very popular topic of discussion, especially early on for this program,” Haug said. “It was a tremendous circus last year. You lose a player like that and you can do one of two things, you can focus on what you lost, or you can use it as momentum to prove to everybody that this is a program bigger than any one person.”
Looking at what the Birds have back it definitely looks like reloading, not rebuilding. Haug is going to carry 21 players, including 14 seniors in '16.
“This is as reload as I can possibly describe,” said Haug.
Starting with the pitching staff, Alton returns a trio of seniors in Nick Cauley, Sam Ballard and Jacob St. Peters that look to lead the charge. Cauley has already procured a scholarship to Northwestern, while the southpaw Ballard is headed to Illinois-Chicago.
“Right now while we don't have a proven ace, we have about four 1As,” Haug said. “We might not have the highest peak pitcher, but what we have is a much deeper staff. Two D-I's on the staff and several younger pitchers that are Division I talent.”
Cauley is touching 93 MPH so far in the spring with his fastball, while Ballard hits 92, St. Peters has reached 87 and 6-foot-3 sophomore Gary Volz sits at 90 MPH. Charlie Erler is another solid sophomore who will help the staff.
The Redbirds also return 6 players with solid innings in the field. Derrick Allen, Noah Rathgeb, Jacob Kanallakan, Steven Nguyen, Steven Pattan and Aaron Bonnell return with good experience.
Allen (left field), Rathgeb (center field) and fellow senior Matt McDonald (right field) should anchor the outfield. Kanallakan is back at first base, while Nguyen shifts from short stop to third base to make room for Pattan at short. Second base will be a hybrid of juniors Braden Flanigan and Ryan Boyd.
“This is the fastest team I've ever had and probably the best defensive team I've ever had,” Haug said. “Will we hit? I like our chances, but obviously you've got to do it on the field, but I'm really excited about this year.”
At catcher Bonnell will get help from another senior, Seth Boschert, who is already agreed to play at Lindenwood-Belleville after high school. Haug likes the depth there.
“We've got an all-conference catcher back in Aaron Bonnell, a middle-of-the-order hitter,” Haug said. “With Seth Boschert we have two very competent, college projectable catchers. I've had (Brent) Gibbs, I've had (Nick) Paulda, but when I had them I had one, now I've got two and one's a right-handed hitter, the other is a left-handed hitter.”
The Southwestern Conference will prove formidable again. Last season Alton was 11-3 in the SWC, tied with O'Fallon for second place behind champ Edwardsville, which went 14-0. O'Fallon reached the super-sectional round of the 4A playoffs and all three SWC powerhouses eclipsed 30 wins.
Haug is honored to have his program in the conversation of SWC supremacy with the Tigers and Panthers.
“When you have people come to you and say its kind of O'Fallon, Edwardsville and you guys and everybody else — and I'm not saying it because I think we're any better — I'm just humbled by the fact that we're getting compared to Edwardsville and O'Fallon,” Haug said. “I think Jason (Portz) and Tim (Funkhouser) run great programs. They're the cadillac of how you should run a high school program and I think we've made great strides.”
The biggest stride to take it to the next level is the brand new baseball field at AHS. The Redbirds will shift their home games there instead of Lloyd Hopkins Field at Gordon Moore Park.
With state-of-the-art bullpen and batting facilities on site, a soon-to-be constructed clubhouse and a top notch field, Haug thinks the program can grow even further. And best of all, it's on the AHS campus.
“It's well on the way to being one of the nicest complexes we believe in the state,” Haug said. “It's truly our field of dreams here in Alton. We like to think the quality of the product on the field will match the quality of the field.”
Alton opens on the road at 4 p.m. today at Herrin. The home opener is set for March 30 at 4:30 p.m. against Freeport.
Derrick Allen OF
Sam Ballard P, OF
Aaron Bonnell C
Seth Boschert C
Jacob Bozovich P
Nick Cauley P, OF
Devin Colley P
Max Hunter P
Jacob Kanallakan 1B
Matt McDonald OF
Noah Rathgeb OF
Marcus Schomberg OF
Jacob St. Peters P
Jonathan Witt P
Ryan Boyd UTL
Braden Flanigan 2B
Steve Nguyen 3B
Steven Pattan SS
Charlie Erler P
Mike Hampton OF
Gary Volz P
March 18 — at Herrin, 4 p.m.
March 19 — at Murphysboro (DH), 9 a.m.
March 21 — at Jersey, 4:30 p.m.
March 23 — at Cahokia, 4:30 p.m.
March 26 — at Civic Memorial (DH), 11 a.m.
March 29 — at O'Fallon*, 4:30 p.m.
March 30 — vs. Freeport, 4:30 p.m.
March 31 — vs. Belleville East*, 4:30 p.m.
April 5 — at Edwardsville*. 4:30 p.m.
April 7 — at Granite City*, 4:30 p.m.
April 9 — at MICDS (DH), 11 a.m.
April 11 — vs. Carlyle (at GCS Ballpark), 6 p.m.
April 12 — vs. Collinsville*, 4:30 p.m.
April 14 — at Belleville West*, 4:30 p.m.
April 16 — vs. McCluer North, 11 a.m.
April 19 — vs. East St. Louis*, 4:30 p.m.
April 22 — vs. Highland, 4:30 p.m.
April 26 — at Belleville East*, 4:30 p.m.
April 28 — vs. O'Fallon*, 4:30 p.m.
April 30 — vs. Valmeyer (DH), 11 a.m.
May 2 — vs. Gibault, 4:30 p.m.
May 3 — vs. Granite City*, 4:30 p.m.
May 5 — vs. Edwardsville*, 4:30 p.m.
May 7 — vs. Lindbergh (DH), 11 a.m.
May 10 — vs. Belleville West*, 4:30 p.m.
May 12 — at Collinsville*, 4:30 p.m.
May 16 — at Triad, 4:15 p.m.
May 17 — at East St. Louis*, 4:30 p.m.
May 18 — vs. Jersey, 4:30 p.m.
May 21 — vs. Marshall County (at Busch Stadium), 4 p.m.