It was a game that saw a combined 30 strikeouts, a comeback from a 4-0 deficit and the tying run forced in with a bases-loaded walk.
But the one thing Belleville East and Alton did not see Tuesday was the end of their Southwestern Conference baseball game. It was suspended after nine innings because of darkness with the game tied 4-4 and will be completed April 30 when the teams meet again in Alton.
Belleville East pitcher Brady Schanuel allowed four runs on five hits and struck out 13 in seven innings, retiring the final 14 Redbirds he faced in order. He did not allow a hit after the third inning and his teammates responded by wiping out a 4-0 deficit.
“He got in some trouble and gave up two runs in back-to-back innings, but he hung in there and just trusted himself,” Belleville East coach Todd Blomberg said of Schanuel, a senior right-hander who has committed to Parkland Junior College but is receiving strong interest from schools like Cincinnati and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. “He’s good enough to control a game and after those little hiccups I thought he was pretty much in command.
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“Our kids rallied behind him and made plays. We kept scratching away and were able to tie it and a lot of that goes to Brady being on the mound with his competitiveness, just keeping us in it.”
Alton coach Todd Haug agreed.
“Credit to him, he’s a heck of a pitcher and a heck of a competitor,” Haug said of Schanuel. “He has a very nice arsenal of pitches and he commands the zone well and has good mound presence.”
Trailing 4-0 in the third inning, Belleville East (4-2) pushed across three runs in the bottom of the third on RBIs by Patrick Gaul, Sheldon Howard and Schanuel, whose RBI single scored Gaul.
Alton (6-0) took a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth, but starter Nick Cauley issued a leadoff walk to Schanuel. Cauley was replaced by Jacob St. Peters, who hit Connor Canavan with a pitch to keep the rally going before St. Peters was replaced by Ben Cusac.
Cusac walked Nick Martin to load the bases, then retired Mitch Harlan on a pop-out to the catcher. At that point, Alton coach Todd Haug summoned senior ace left-hander Bryan Hudson from the bullpen.
Hudson, a 6-foot-8 left-hander who signed with Missouri and is a potentially high major-league draft pick, was facing Belleville East sophomore catcher Braxton Chandler.
Chandler was making only his second varsity start and probably wouldn’t even have been playing if Lancers’ starting catcher Drew Millas was not home sick with a stomach ailment.
Chandler saw some wicked pitches from Hudson, working the count to 3-2 before drawing a bases-loaded walk on a curveball to force in the tying run. Hudson struck out the next two hitters and worked a scoreless seventh.
“(Chandler) coaxes a bases-loaded walk and we tie the game up,” Blomberg said. “Then he gets hit in the collarbone (on a foul tip) and I think Brady might have broken his finger he was throwing so hard. The kid was just nails today ... I’m very proud of him.
“The first conference game against one of the higher-ranked teams and he held his own as well as anybody.”
Five Alton pitchers combined for 15 strikeouts, including eight by Cauley.
Haug, whose team had outscored its opponents 61-4 before Tuesday, lamented the Redbirds’ inability to put the game away earlier.
“It’s just baseball. Sometimes you love it and it doesn’t love you back,” Haug said. “Both teams had opportunities to gain momentum and neither team really seized the moment and put the killer blow in. So here we are, we’re playing and the sun’s going down.”
Haug was asked about bringing Hudson in during the sixth.
“He’s a competitor, he’s a baseball player,” Haug said. “He’s a heck of a good player and any time he’s on the mound we’re very, very comfortable. We made a pitch, we didn’t get the call. It is what it is.”
Alton grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second on a two-run double by Aaron Bonnell. Hudson added a two-run double in the third, giving him 14 RBIs in seven games and a .625 batting average (10-for-16).
East began chipping away in the third on singles by Alex Phillips and Travis Michalke and a run-scoring ground ball by Gaul. Howard’s bunt drove in another run and Schanuel roped an RBI single to left.
Alton threatened in the eighth on a leadoff single by Steven Nguyen, but he was stranded at second by Phillips, who pitched the eighth and ninth.
East had runners at second and third with two outs in the ninth following an Alton throwing error, but reliever Drake Hampton retired Howard for the third out before the umpires suspended the game because of darkness.
“Things didn’t look good down 4-0 against one of the higher-ranked teams in the state,” Blomberg said. “A lot of credit goes especially to the kids at the bottom of our order that got us going. Before we knew it it was 4-3 and then we tied up.
“They didn’t give up and just believed.”