COLUMBIA — Even after shutting out one of the area's better lineups on just two hits Saturday, Althoff High School senior Atlee Champion still wasn't sure he had his best stuff.
"I couldn't throw my changeup at all and my curveball wasn't really working, so I was just trying to pitch to contact," said Champion, who worked quickly and stayed ahead of the hitters in a 1-0 complete-game victory over the Columbia Eagles. "I was just trying to locate my fastball, the curveball really wasn't working. It was tough with the wind so I was just trying to locate my pitches."
Columbia left-hander Josh Fleming limited Althoff to four hits, with both pitchers benefiting from a strong wind blowing in from the outfield.
The Crusaders (4-7) pushed across the game's only run on a one-out squeeze bunt by Grant Strieker in the fifth inning.
Bryce Richer, who had two of Althoff's four hits, led off the fifth with a single. Fleming had trouble with Luke Frazier's bouncer back to the mound and dropped the ball, leaving runners at first and third to set up the squeeze play.
"We've got a lot of kids that can do it, Grant's one that can handle the pressure," Althoff coach Brett Isaacs said. "We had a 1-0 count and got a good situation with good runners. It was late already to where you could tell there weren't going to be many runs, so I decided to take that chance and it worked out."
Columbia coach Keith Jany knew the Crusaders would be bunting.
"We knew it was coming, but when they execute a squeeze perfectly there's not a whole lot you can do about it," he said.
Having a first name like Atlee means answering the same question over and over: "How did you get your name?"
Many baseball fans quickly recognize it as the first name of former San Francisco Giants pitcher Atlee Hammaker, a close friend of Champion's father, Chicago White Sox minor-league field coordinator and Granite City native Kirk Champion.
"My dad was coaching him then and both my parents liked the name," Atlee Champion explained. "My little sister's named after John Mabry (her first name is Mabry), so we've got some baseball names."
The only hits for Columbia (10-3) were a one-out single by Cole Mallinckrodt in the fourth and Reed Greatting's single in the fifth. Only one runner reached third base and another was thrown out stealing.
Champion played with many of Columbia's starters on a junior high select team, so he was familiar with the lineup.
"He really threw well and we really needed that," Isaacs said. "We've played some rough baseball lately and we really needed that start, he threw a lot of strikes and didn't give them anything. He attacked the (strike) zone and was in the zone all day and we made the plays behind him. When you do that you've got a good chance."
Jany's squad had won six of its last seven games before Saturday, but he hasn't been happy with the offense.
"Atlee threw a great game, there's no doubt about it. There's been some issues within our team right now, it's not just been today or the other day against Red Bud. We're just leaving way to many guys on base, we're not ready to hit with runners in scoring position. We're not getting very good swings right now."
Columbia picked up a 7-6 win in Game 2 on an RBI single from senior catcher Brock Johns in the seventh inning.
Columbia led 4-0 in the third and was still ahead 4-1 until Althoff scored five times in the fifth to take a 6-4 lead.
Althoff's Ryan Marcum had a double in the fifth and Sam Haudrich had an RBI single before Nick Hawthorne drove in two more runs with another hit.
Haudrich was 3-for-4 with an RBI while Althoff's Cole Reichert was 2-for-4.
The Eagles came back to tie it with two runs in the sixth, then gained a split of the doubleheader on Johns' clutch hit.
Columbia's leading hitter Brendan DePoy, hitting .529 coming in, rebounded from going hitless in Game 1 and was 2-for-3 with two RBIs in the second game. DePoy and Greatting, who tossed two hitless innings of relief to pick up the victory, both had doubles.