EDWARDSVILLE — A regional championship game between two 30-win teams doesn't come around very often, and unfortunately someone has to lose. On Monday in Edwardsville that loss went to the Alton Redbirds.
The Redbirds lost 5-2 to the Edwardsville Tigers in front of approximately 1,500 fans at Tom Pile Field in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional final. The Tigers improved to 35-1 with the win, while Alton finishes up at 30-7 with a new school-record in wins, breaking the previous mark of 28.
EHS now plays O'Fallon (28-9) at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in a site to be determined in the metro east in the semifinals of the Bloomington (Illinois Wesleyan) Sectional. The Panthers ousted Belleville East 10-0 in a five-inning no-hitter in the Granite City Regional finals. It was a game that started Saturday and concluded Monday. It was suspended by rain Saturday.
Alton head coach Todd Haug just thought the Redbirds ran into an EHS team that played a little crisper on Monday.
“That's a good ball club,” he said of Edwardsville. “It's two good ball clubs, but the execution that they have is unparalleled in terms of what we've seen this year. We have a good scouting report on them, they have a good scouting report on us, but it really comes down to execution.”
One thing the Tigers did was put the ball in play against AHS ace Bryan Hudson. The 6-foot-8 lefty only struck out four EHS hitters in six innings, his lowest output of 2015 when he threw more than an inning. He had seven 10-plus strikeout games on the season.
“That's a credit to our guys,” Edwardsville head coach Tim Funkhouser said. “We scheduled our season knowing we were facing a high velo (velocity) guy in this situation. Fortunately we played Glenbrook South and they have (Fitz) Stadler, close to 90 if not 90, and we faced the kid from Lockport (Jordan) Johnston, whose probably over 90, so it's not like our guys had not seen some velocity, but (Hudson's) curveball really sets him apart, too.”
And while Hudson entered Monday at 10-1 with a 0.33 ERA, Edwardsville countered with Daniel Lloyd, who was 9-0 with a 0.49 ERA.
Lloyd went 6.1 innings Monday, scattering three hits, fanning seven and walking three while allowing a pair of earned runs. In comparison, Hudson worked six innings, fanning four, walking two and surrendered four hits and five runs, but only two earned.
“There's no doubt (Hudson) gets a lot of attention because he's top flight, but we like (Lloyd) a lot and he's always produced for us,” Funkhouser said. “We're aware that their pitcher is exceptional, but every time Daniel Lloyd has gone out he's done outstanding for us. He's won the last couple of regional games for us as well as some big postseason games, non-conference and conference games.”
The game started in a classic pitcher's duel. Neither team had a base runner until the third inning. Alton's Steven Nguyen walked and stole second, but was left there and EHS' Joe Wallace singled, but after his courtesy runner, Dylan Burris, swiped second he was stranded there.
Defense helped contain the Birds in the third. With Edwardsville left fielder Fahd Shakeel and the rest of the outfielders playing extremely shallow, Derrick Allen hit a sinking line drive that would normally drop, but Shakeel closed on it for a diving catch, not allowing Nguyen to score.
“We scout a lot,” Funkhouser said. “I don't think coach (Mike) Waldo saw our last five or six games because he was bouncing around. He put together a formula that we think is going to work... Fortunately there are different plays and Fahd Shakeel making that diving play, that could have been the play of the game at that point of the game.”
Haug added, “Based upon placement they play their outfielders extremely shallow at times. It almost feels like they've got everyone sitting on the infield and if you burn them, you burn them, but more times than not they're going to take away the little clunker and it cost us the first run. Fahd Shakeel made a heck of a play and took some momentum away from us.”
A nice running catch by Allen in center in the third on a Bailey Zimmer drive helped keep the Tigers off the board for the time being too, but they answered the bell the next inning.
In the fourth, Collin Clayton drew a leadoff walk followed by a single from Aaron Jackson. Clayton moved to third and Jackson stole second to put both in scoring position. With one out, Jake Garella hit a slow roller, reaching on a fielder's choice and allowing Clayton to score and make it 1-0.
A sacrifice bunt from Shakeel plated Jackson on the squeeze play to up it to 2-0. Hudson then picked Garella off second base, but the damage was already done.
“Scoring two runs off Hudson, he's a great pitcher, and scoring those first two runs off of Hudson really helped us,” Lloyd said.
Edwardsville tacked on three more in the fifth. Zimmer and Mitchell Krebs picked up consecutive singles and after Wallace bunted them to second and third, Alton intentionally passed Jordan Hovey to load the bases with one out. After Hudson struck out Clayton for the second out, Jackson reached on an error. Zimmer scored on the play and when Krebs broke for home too, an errant throw to the plate that caromed off the bricks and up the third baseline, allowed Hovey to score to make it 5-0.
The Birds finally deciphered Lloyd in the sixth for a pair of runs. Jacob Skrabacz doubled over the drawn in right fielder to start it and after Allen flied out, Matt Hopkins and Hudson walked. A wild pitch allowed Skrabacz to score and Hopkins scored on Jacob Kanallakan's grounder to cut it to 5-2.
In the end it just wasn't enough. Hudson admitted it's Edwardsville's preparation that makes them so tough.
“Their coaches are phenomenal scouts,” Hudson said. “They put up a pretty good game plan. I'm pretty sure they've watched me almost every game I've thrown. They got the jest of what I've got. They watched me enough and they worked on it all day. I talked to a few players and they worked on it all day, nothing but me. They had some key hits and we didn't.
“It's been a great rivalry. They might not look at that way, but they're one of the better teams we face, if not the best team we face, but we put up our own against them I guess you could say.”
The Birds are losing a strong senior class that has been part of 105 wins for the AHS program in their four years, but Haug understands their departure is just part of baseball.
“We talked to them and it's similar to the ending of Friday Night Lights, you take one plaque down and you raise the next plaque,” Haug said. “For us, we're going to reflect on this and be very proud of what we did and we're going to start preparing for 2016 and I think the seniors would have it no other way. We gave them everything we had while they were here and now we wish them the best and they're the winningest class in Alton history. They've set the bar high and we'll look to expand upon what they've done.”
CLASS 4A EDWARDSVILLE REGIONAL
EDWARDSVILLE 5, ALTON 2
Alton 000 002 0 — 2 3 2
Edwardsville 000 230 X — 5 4 0
ALTON (30-7) — Matthew Hopkins 0-2 BB, Bryan Hudson 0-2 BB, Jacob Kanallakan 0-3 RBI, Drake Hampton 1-3, Steven Nguyen 1-2 2B BB SB, Jacob Skrabacz 1-3 2B.
LP — Hudson (10-2) 6.0IP 4H 5R 2ER 2BB 4K
EDWARDSVILLE (35-1) — Jordan Hovey 0-2 IBB, Collin Clayton 0-2 BB, Aaron Jackson 1-3 SB, Jake Garella 0-3 RBI, Fahd Shakeel 0-2 SAC RBI, Bailey Zimmer 1-3, Mitchell Krebs 1-3, Joe Wallace 1-1 SAC.