ALTON — Jacob Kanallakan ended a long, weird day of baseball on a high note for the Alton Redbirds Thursday at Lloyd Hopkins Field inside Gordon Moore Park.
Kanallakan walloped a RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning to propel the Birds past the Belleville East Lancers 5-4. But before that Alton put the finishing touches on another 5-4 win over East in 11 innings, completing a suspended game from March 31 in Belleville. That game was suspended due to darkness and the Lancers not having lights.
With two Southwestern Conference games, the day could have been a nightmare for the Redbirds who lost at Edwardsville on Tuesday. Instead, the Birds won both to improve to 19-4 and 7-2 on the league slate. The disheartened Lancers sank to 14-8 and 5-4 in the SWC with the two losses.
“It was a huge effort for us,” AHS head coach Todd Haug said. “Again, we're looking to be playing our best ball in a few weeks. If we're stock we're trending upward. Our boys are plugging away and this a very, very special group of young men and I couldn't be prouder of them.”
The feeling was much different for East coach Todd Blomberg who saw two close ball games slip through his team's fingers on Thursday.
“Now we've got our work cut out for us because next week is our Edwardsville and O'Fallon week,” a noticeably frustrated Blomberg said. “We've got to get our heads up and come out tomorrow and try to get better and try to beat those guys next week.”
Early on it looked to be a long day for the Lancers. Alton's Bryan Hudson closed out the first game with an Alton win, then started Game 2 and no hit East for 5.1 innings before being pulled due to his pitch count. Overall Hudson fanned 19 Lancers on Thursday, six in the two innings of the first game and 13 in Game 2. It was a huge effort for the senior southpaw who had 28 Major League scouts on hand to watch him throw.
“I'm proud of how our guys competed,” Blomberg said. “They have the best player in the conference and we hung around and were pesky enough to be in the ball game late. He had 22 outs today and 19 of them were by strikeout by heaven's sake. I just want to give credit to my kids for hanging around and once they made the pitching change — when you face Bryan Hudson you're in for a long day — once he came out we had life.”
Hudson came out after striking out Patrick Gaul in the fifth, giving way to Jacob St. Peters. St. Peters quickly induced a ground out, but an Alton infield error kept it alive for catcher Drew Milas. Milas pounded the first hit of the day for East, a RBI triple to right center, plating Sheldon Howard to cut Alton's lead to 2-1. St. Peters quickly gave way to Drake Hampton, who struggled by walking Brady Schanuel and Mitch Harlan to load the bases, but he fanned Nick Martin looking to thwart the threat.
East poured it on again in the top of the seventh. Logan Powell was plunked by Hampton and then he went 2-0 on Isaiah King before being pulled in favor of Ben Cusac.
Cusac, who started on Tuesday in Edwardsville, struggled. He fanned Gaul, but then surrendered a RBI single and an error to No. 9 hitter Alex Phillips. Both Powell and Gaul scored to catapult the Lancers ahead 3-2. Phillips added an insurance run when he scored on a wild pitch, making it 4-2 in favor East.
But it wasn't in the cards for the Lancers, as the Redbirds had the last laugh with a dramatic two-out rally.
Jacob Skrabacz and Derrick Allen reached on consecutive singles with two outs, moved up on a wild pitch and then scored on a throwing error on Steven Nguyen's slow roller to tie it at 4-4. The Lancers intentionally passed Hudson to bring Kanallakan to the plate and the sophomore cleanup hitter came through, shooting a ball into left center field to plate Nguyen and end the game.
The Redbirds converged on the field, meeting Kanallakan midway between first and second to celebrate the dramatic victory.
“With two outs and the last inning I was skeptical how we were going to do it,” Kanallakan said. “Scrappy got that hit and then Derrick came up and we got those two runs over and then Bryan was going to come up, but we knew they were going to walk him and I just tried to relax and forget my last two at-bats (two strikeouts) and put a good swing on it and it felt really good.”
Kanallakan used to teams avoiding Hudson and he understands his role in that situation.
“They do that a lot, walk Huddy and then I come up,” he said. “Sometimes I get it done and sometimes I don't. Today I did.”
It was nerve-racking for Haug who saw his team nearly give the game away, only to achieve the improbable with the two-out rally.
“It was an amazing feeling to watch these guys battle,” Haug said. “It was a true team effort tonight. Jacob Skrabacz there got that key hit to keep us alive and then we went from there.
“This thing was in our clutches and then we had our hearts ripped out and then all of the sudden we're storming the field, so it was an emotional roller coaster there.”
It was Kanallakan who put the Birds on the board early, too. In the first against East starter Schanuel he smacked a two-out triple off the right field fence to plate Allen who led off with a walk. Kanallakan then lumbered home on a passed ball to push Alton ahead 2-0.
It was a quick start for the Redbirds, who were fresh off the high of closing out the extra-inning affair suspended from the month before.
The game started in the 10th inning tied 4-4. With Hudson and Schanuel both on the hill it looked to be a pitcher's duel. AHS had different thoughts in the 11th though.
Matt Hopkins and Hudson both coaxed free passes to start the frame for the Redbirds. Kanallakan flew out, but then East intentionally walked Aaron Bonnell to load the bases. Stephen Pattan did the rest, blooping a single to center to score Hopkins and push the Birds ahead 5-4.
With all the ups and downs and twists and turns in the game, Hudson's dominant performance was nearly forgotten. He got the win in the first game. Cusac earned the win in the second game for Alton.
Hudson's removal from Game 2 was strictly due to pitch count.
“It's not very often that you have a guy throwing a no-hitter and you pull him from the game,” Haug said.
“For my money I can't imagine a better pitcher in the state and across the country I know he stacks up against the best. He's a phenomenal ball player and we're very fortunate to have him on our side.”
ALTON 5, BELLEVILLE EAST 4, 11 INNINGS
Alton 0 2 2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 — 5 7 2
Belleville East 0 0 3 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 — 4 5 1
ALTON (18-4, 6-2) — Steven Nguyen 1-4 SB, Matt Hopkins 1-4 BB, Bryan Hudson 2-3 2B 2 BBs 2 RBIs, Jacob Kanallakan 1-5 2B, Aaron Bonnell 1-4 2B BB 2 RBIs, Steven Pattan 1-2 RBI.
WP — Hudson 3.2IP 1H 0R 0ER 2BB 9K
Nick Cauley 5.0IP 3H 4R 4ER 2BB 8K
Jacob St. Peters 0IP 0H 0R 0ER 0BB 0K 1HBP
Ben Cusac 0.1IP 0H 0R 0ER 1BB 0K
Drake Hampton 2.0IP 1H 0R 0ER 0BB 4K
EAST (14-7, 5-3) — Patrick Gaul 0-5 RBI, Sheldon Howard 1-2 2B 2 BBs RBI, Connor Canavan 0-4 BB, Mitch Harlan 0-3 2 BBs RBI, Braxton Chandler 1-4, Drew Milas 1-1, Alex Phillips 2-5, Travis Michalke 0-5 RBI.
LP — Brady Schanuel 9.0IP 6H 5R 4ER 3BB 15K
Phillips 2.0IP 1H 0R 0ER 1BB 2K
ALTON 5, BELLEVILLE EAST 4
East 0 0 0 0 0 1 3 — 4 2 2
Alton 2 0 0 0 0 0 3 — 5 6 3
ALTON (19-4, 7-2) — Derrick Allen 1-3 BB, Steven Nguyen 0-2 2 BBs SB, Bryan Hudson 0-3 IBB, Jacob Kanallakan 2-4 3B 2 RBIs, Aaron Bonnell 1-3, Matt Hopkins 1-3, Jacob Skrabacz 1-3.
WP — Ben Cusac 1.0IP 1H 1R 0ER 1BB 2K
Hudson 5.1IP 0H 0R 0ER 2BB 13K
Jacob St. Peters 0.1IP 1H 1R 0ER 0BB 0K
Drake Hampton 0.1IP 0H 2R 1ER 3BB 1K 1HBP
EAST (14-8, 5-4) — Drew Milas 1-2 3B 2BBs RBI, Brady Schanuel 0-1 2 BBs SB, Mitch Harlan 0-2 BB, Logan Powell 0-2 HBP SB, Isaiah King 0-2 BB SB, Alex Phillips 1-3 RBI.
LP — Cody Freppon 2.0IP 4H 3R 0ER 2BB 5K
Schanuel 3.0IP 2H 2R 1ER 2BB 5K
Miles Brunk 2.0IP 0R 0ER 0BB 3K