With their present lineup configuration, the Althoff Crusaders are designed to manufacture runs.
On Wednesday the assembly line was working overtime as Althoff piled up nine hits and 15 stolen bases, took advantage of 11 walks — and still had to hold off a late Waterloo comeback for an 11-10 victory at Whitey Herzog Field.
Althoff (4-1) won despite having only one extra-base hit (a double), utilizing speed and pressure on the basepaths to keep lighting up the scoreboard.
“Yeah that was a fun one,” said Althoff senior Ben Hankammer, who was 3-for-4 with a double and three RBIs. “This is definitely a different style of play and different type of team than we’ve had in the past. We’ve got to do those little things: we’ve got to steal bases, we’ve got to string hits together, get the walks in order to win because we don’t have anybody who’s going to wow us with talent.
“We have guys that do the little things right and that’s really important for us.”
Hankammer pointed to Althoff senior center fielder Sam Haudrich as Exhibit A for his theory. Haudrich reached base five times on three singles and two Waterloo errors, drove in three runs, stole five bases and scored twice.
“It’s insane,” said Hankammer, who attended St. James Grade School in Millstadt with Haudrich. “I grew up with Haudy, we went to St. James together and man, I’ve just been watching him run for however long now. It never fails to amaze me.
“He’s the fastest kid in St. Clair County I’ve seen and he’s a fun one to watch.”
Trailing 6-0 after two innings and 11-4 after four, Waterloo refused to give up. Althoff pitchers obliged by issuing 13 walks and allowing nine hits.
Despite heavy substitutions, the Bulldogs (4-1) scored twice in the sixth and got a two-run single from Corey Vogel in the seventh. An Althoff error cut the deficit to 11-10 before Crusaders’ reliever Seth Bertelsman retired Waterloo’s Hayden Bender on a fly ball to shallow left to secure the win.
“We kind of let them come back, but we’re not real deep in pitching and we’ve got another game tomorrow and two on Saturday,” said Althoff coach Brett Isaacs, who used starter Rory Keen and then Jake Frazier in relief before turning to the busy Bertelsman. “We’ve already played three (this week) and Bertelsman, thank goodness he can come in and do it every day. That’s the third straight day he’s pitched.
“We got out of it. We survived.”
Isaacs said Frazier had some back pain, leading to another chance for a Bertelsman save.
“We just survived and it starts on the mound,” Isaacs said. “We trust him, we throw him in a lot in those situations. He finished a game yesterday kind of the same way.”
Despite its own mistakes, Waterloo battled all the way back and had the potential winning run on base when the final out was made.
“These kids have played a lot of baseball and it showed today,” Waterloo coach Mark Vogel said. “We didn’t do much of anything right other than competing at the end, but you know what? Give Althoff credit for that. No way am I taking anything away from Althoff. They played the game the right way and deserved to win today.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do, but we did a good job of battling back.”
Althoff jumped on Missouri State recruit Tyler McAlister for six runs in the first two innings. Hankammer had an RBI single in the first and a two-run single in the second.
“He did it yesterday, too,” Isaacs said. “He’s swinging the bat very well. He’s just got a calm approach about him and he’s a leader. He’s not trying to do too much, he just steps up there with a really good approach every time.”
Waterloo’s Ryan Aycock nearly left the yard in the third with a two-run double off the fence in left. McAlister provided another jolt with a two-run homer in the fourth.
Fueled by singles, walks and stolen bases, Althoff kept pushing across runs with one in the third and four more in the fourth.
“We’re the type of team where if you give us something, we’re fast enough we can cause havoc out there,” Isaacs said. “That’s how we score runs, we don’t hit a lot of doubles. We’re not taking the foot off the pedal any and that’s the way we have to score.:
Vogel thinks his young club has a lot of high-end potential.
“We have not been real good defensively to this point,” he said. “Our pitchers are not throwing enough strikes consistently and you can’t do that, not against a team that can run like Althoff. I believe when this group figures it out and we make other teams beat us, we’ve got a chance to be a solid baseball team.
“But we’re not there yet and that’s why you get a chance to play 35 games.”