While he could have admitted he had it planned, Althoff pitcher Ben Hankammer said it was mostly luck that his high fastball helped snuff out Nashville’s best chance at a baseball victory Wednesday at Whitey Herzog Field.
In what appeared to be a missed squeeze bunt in the seventh inning, Althoff managed to trap Nashville sophomore Hayden Heggemeier off third in a rundown at the plate and held on for a 2-1 win.
Did Hankammer pick up a sign or sniff out the squeeze play?
“Not at all,” he said. “I’d like to take credit for it, but honestly I was trying to go down and in on that. It just went my way and I was wild at the right time.”
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Hankammer, who had lost his first three decisions, made the tag on Heggemeier for the second out. Then the senior lefty struck out Daniel Thorson to preserve the win in a battle between two of the area’s top-ranked small-school clubs.
“It was just a bad break,” Nashville coach Chad Malawy said. “I probably wouldn’t have squeezed him had (Thorson) not struck out his last at-bat.”
It looked like Nashville had two on and no outs in the seventh when Silvestri’s throw on a bunt attempt by Dylan Mueller hit Mueller in the back. However, Mueller was tagged out when he left the bag at first.
“Things just changed and evolved a little bit in the seventh inning because in the sixth, I had an opportunity with one out and the bottom of my order to squeeze,” Malawy said. “But on the road I was playing for the win and I really wasn’t playing fror the tie.”
Althoff (7-3) is second behind Wesclin in the News-Democrat Small-Scholl Baseball Rankings while Nashville (9-4) is third.
Even Althoff coach Brett Isaacs would like to have given Hankammer more credit for throwing a high pitch in that situation, the traditional defense against a squeeze bunt attempt.
“That’s something you always want to try to do, but I don’t know if it happened by accident or not,” Isaacs said. “The key thing was (catcher) Bret Silvestri being able to catch that ball, because that’s a tough ball to try to catch when somebody’s in your way trying to squeeze. Then he had the wherewithal to get the rundown and get the big out.”
Silvestri also drove in both Althoff runs, each time scoring senior speedester Sam Haudrich. Haudrich doubled and scored in the first and singled and scored in the third.
Silvestri had an RBI groundout in the first against Nashville sophomore right-hander Austin Anderson and then drove in what proved to be the game-winner with a sacrifice fly to right in the third.
“Silvestri did a great job,” Isaacs said of the News-Democrat’s Small-School Football Player of the Year headed to Robert Morris. “That’s something we’ve talked a lot about is getting the runner home from third with less than two outs. He put the ball in play and got that done two different times.
“Those are huge at-bats. It may not show up as two singles or anything like that, but those are big plays.”
Haudrich and Althoff No. 2 hitter Austin Keen were a combined 6-for-6 on the day, but Anderson held the rest of Althoff’s lineup without a hit.
“We’re young. I had five sophomores in the lineup today and that was a sophomore pitcher,” Malawy said. “I thought he looked pretty good and he’s not our No. 1 or 2 in the rotation.”
Althoff made another key play in the sixth when Nashville had runners at second and third with one out. Ryan Brink lifted a fly ball into foul territory down the right field line and Althoff right fielder Stephen Toenjes came from behind the ball while making the catch, allowing him to make a stronger throw to the plate.
As a result, Jaris Dalman couldn’t try to score the potential tying run at third.
The Hornets nearly broke things open anyway on a bases-loaded, two-out line drive up the middle by Andrew Kash that seemed to be inches from Hankammer’s face. Instead, it wound up in Hankammer’s glove for the third out.
“I didn’t have much time to think, but I caught it and I was pretty nonchalant about it and then after I was like wow, I probably could have gotten hurt there,” Hankammer said. “I’m glad it found my glove. I think it found me more than I found it.”
Nashville got its only run in the fourth when Thorson hit a leadoff double and scored on a passed ball.
It was another tight game in the long-running rivalry between brothers-in-law Isaacs and Malawy, who married Isaacs’ sister.
“It’s amazing, the home team seems to win just about every time,” Isaacs said. “It’s always fun.”