BELLEVILLE — Already towering over shorter teammates at 6-foot-7, Alton sophomore Bryan Hudson reached new heights on Wednesday.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Hudson stroked an 0-2 pitch into left field to drive in the winning run in Alton's 5-4 semifinal victory over Belleville East in the Class 4A Bloomington Sectional.
Hudson, who pitched five shutout innings Saturday in the Redbirds' 2-0 regional championship win over Edwardsville, tacked on four more scoreless frames Wednesday while allowing just one hit to pick up the win.
"I don't think we can hide him any more," Alton coach Todd Haug said of Hudson, known as "Baby Giraffe" to teammates. "He's going to be a force to be reckoned with over the next couple years. He's just fearless out there. He's out there on fumes, but again, location and the ability to throw a curveball (helps).
"When you're 6-foot-7 it acts a little bit different than most other pitchers at this level."
It was the 10th win in a row by Alton (28-9) as the Redbirds advanced to the sectional championship despite finishing sixth in the Southwestern Conference.
They will face Moline at 11 a.m. Saturday at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington.
"I guess this train will head north to the Bloomington," Haug said. "We know we're capable of more. We're happy but not satisfied."
Belleville East (21-14) built a 4-0 lead by the third inning, but stranded 16 runners and never scored again. The Lancers failed to add to the lead despite having the leadoff man reach safely in each of the first six innings and being issued 10 walks.
East was held to just two hits over the final six innings by Hudson and reliever Charlie Howard. Alton scored three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth before pushing across the winning run in the ninth.
Was it a case of missed opportunities for the Lancers?
"There's that, but also they really started hitting the ball," Belleville East coach Todd Blomberg said of the Redbirds, who had 15 hits. "I told the guys out there we did nothing wrong We didn't execute a few times with a 4-0 lead and with who we put out on the mound, we think that's a pretty good lead.
"We had a 4-0 lead and we were pretty comfortable. We were cruising along and all of a sudden somebody woke up the Redbirds and they started swinging it. We tip our hat to them, they came out and won the game. We don't feel like we lost it by any stretch, they beat us today."
Alton's Ron Wisnasky reached on an infield single leading off the ninth against East reliever Brandon Hoguet and then stole second. Blomberg ordered an intentional walk to Indiana University recruit Brent Gibbs with an 0-2 count and a groundout by Logan Spiller moved the runners to second and third.
Blomberg ordered another intentional walk to load the bases before Hudson sent everyone home three hours after the game began.
"I wasn't going to let their best player (Gibbs) beat us," Blomberg said. "We were going to make somebody else beat us and tip your cap to that kid, he came through with a big at-bat."
Alton starter Ray Bailey lasted just 2 1/3 innings and walked Danny Snyder with the bases loaded in the second to force in a run.
East scored on two wild pitches during the same at-bat in the third inning to grab a 3-0 lead and catcher Lucas Weisbrodt's RBI single gave the Lancers and starter Sam Bassett a 4-0 lead.
Alton climbed back into the game in the fifth on an RBI double by Wisnasky and a two-out, two-run single by Nick Droste that cut the East lead to 4-3.
Droste injured his ankle earlier in the game, but kept playing and added another hit in the seventh.
Alton tied it in the sixth against East reliever Marty Brunk on a two-out RBI single by No. 9 hitter Wil Lewis, who was 3-for-4.
East had two runners on in the sixth and the ninth, but was unable to score.
Haug praised his team for not giving up despite the early 4-0 deficit.
"I'm not going to lie," he said. "We were down a little bit, but this is a long ballgame -- in this game it was a really long ballgame -- and we figured out a way to pull it out in the ninth."