Without a baseball regional championship since 2009, the Althoff Crusaders will have to negotiate a potentially difficult path to get the job done this week at the Class 2A Dupo Regional.
“It ought to be interesting,” said Althoff coach Brett Isaacs, whose 17-8 club drew the top seed ahead of second-seeded Wesclin (17-11). “You always have to keep your guard up and not be overconfident, but I like how we’re playing and the direction of our team lately.
“Sometimes toward the end of the spring kids can lose focus with graduation and all the distractions, but I feel like this group’s done a good job of keeping control of that.”
The Crusaders have won four in a row and seven of their last nine.
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Althoff has the most dominant pitcher in the regional in senior right-hander Austin Keen, who is headed to Kentucky. Keen is 7-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 89 strikeouts in just 49 1/3 innings.
“His velocity is up this year and his movement on his pitches has been very good,” Isaacs said. “He’s able to dominate lineups at times and has a high strikeout total along with that.”
Keen and senior left-hander Ben Hankammer (3-4, 3.72 ERA) give Althoff two experienced starters.
“When those two are pitching we know we have a good chance to win and that’s all you can ask,” Isaacs said. “They’re both really good competitors and they’ve both pitched in a regional before.”
What Althoff lacks in power (no home runs), it more than compensates with plenty of speed.
Senior center fielder Sam Haudrich (.430, 10 RBIs) and Keen (.390, 16 RBIs) have combined for 42 stolen bases, 22 by Haudrich. Hankammer leads the team in hitting (.432) and RBIs (19).
No. 2 seed Wesclin has a knack for playing its best baseball at the most important time of the year. Three years ago the Warriors won a regional title as a No. 6 seed and made a memorable run that reached the state tournament, where they finished fourth.
“Anybody can beat anybody and we proved that a few years back when Justin (Groennert) was a senior, we were the sixth seed and we came through,” Wesclin coach John Groennert said. “If you don’t come ready to play you’re going to beat. Everybody’s got potential.
“Althoff runs like crazy and steals bags, they’ve got two good arms and they can beat anybody. To me it’s wide open. I would hope we can ge to the finals.”
Wesclin’s top hitters are shortstop Brendan Bernhardt (.376, 13 RBIs, 14 stolen bases), first baseman Blake Bernhardt (.364, five RBIs), Dylan Weh (.338, 16 RBIs), Jarad Steenbergen (.320, 11 RBIs), Jared Timmermann (.315, 27 RBIs) and Darrell Combs (.313, 12 RBIs).
“There’s a lot of guys here that have won two or three regionals and advanced, so they know what it’s all about,” Groennert said.
Red Bud Regional
Despite an impressive run of 20-plus win seasons under coach Chad Malawy, the Nashville Hornets (26-6-1) have only one regional title since they reached the 2005 state tournament. That one came in 2013 and the Hornets have the firepower to make it happen again.
Blessed with a dangerous mix of experienced and youthful talent, the Hornets’ formidable lineup includes senior catcher and McKendree recruit Daniel Thorson (hitting over .400), senior second baseman-pitcher Dylan Mueller (.370, 4-1), senior right fielder Trace Musielak (.305, nine homers, 39 RBIs) and junior third baseman Jaris Dalman, also hitting over .400.
An impressive sophomore group includes pitchers Austin Anderson and Ryan Brink, each of whom has six wins, and sophomore center fielder Hayden Heggemeier (.370).
Along with Anderson, Brink and Mueller, the pitching staff includes Troy Pedtke (5-1) and left-hander Brady Bultman (3-1).
The Gibault Hawks (15-15) have two of the top small-school hitters in the area in senior Quincy recruit Chandler Purcell (.485, 12 doubles, three homers, 30 RBIs and junior Arkansas recruit Jordan McFarland (.425, five doubles, five triples, eight home runs, 41 RBIs).
The dangerous Gibault lineup also includes Alec Skaer (.383, 20 RBIs), Tyler Brinkmann (.377, 16 RBIs), Trevor Davis (.341, 23 RBIs) and Dylan McCoy (.333, 23 RBIs).
Top-seeded Mater Dei has won 10 of its last 11 games and will try to keep its hot streak going in the playoffs.
The Knights have only one regional title since 2005, last winning it in 2012. They were upset by Central in the regional last spring and the Cougars also knocked off Carlyle before losing to Wesclin in the final.
“We’ve been very happy with the way we’ve been playing, but other teams have picked it up as well,” Mater Dei coach Travis Gebke said. “All you can do is hope that you’re sharp when it comes time to do what you need to do. You can play bad for one inning and it could be the end of your season.”
Among Mater Dei’s top run producers are Arkansas State recruit Zach Haake (.479, eight doubles, 19 RBIs), junior Brady Rakers (.386, three homers, 31 RBIs) and Lucas Deimeke (.338, 23 RBIs).
Carlyle (18-13) has won eight of its last 12 thanks to hot bats like Grant Carman (.365, 11 doubles, two homers, 29 RBIs), Adam Alexander (.337, two homers, 17 RBIs) and MacMurray College recruit Tommy Cummins (.330, 10 doubles, 21 RBIs).
Dillon Smith (.360, 19 RBIs) is the top hitter for Central, which the Cougars also rely on Brandon Richter (,349, nine doubles, 17 RBIs) and Jack Strieker (.300, 15 RBIs).
Class 2A Baseball Playoffs
Class 2A Dupo Regional
Top seeds: (1) Althoff (17-8), (2) Wesclin (17-11), (3) Metro-East Lutheran (6-13), (4) Roxana (12-14)
Pick to win: Tossup, Wesclin or Althoff
Could challenge: Wesclin or Althoff
Analysis: This regional seems like a two-team race between Althoff and Wesclin, but the Dupo-Roxana winner could be a darkhorse to pull an upset. Althoff has a dominant starter in Kentucky-bound Austin Keen and a solid No. 2 in experienced senior Ben Hankammer. Wesclin has a deep, experienced lineup with capable pitching as well. Roxana is led by senior pitcher-outfielder Logan Reardon (.329, two homers, 20 RBIs; 3-4, 1.66 ERA, 90 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings). Dupo has its own ace in Jordan Prange (4-2, 4.12 ERA, 65 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings) and a solid hitter in Austin Francis (.484, 10 doubles, one homer, 17 RBIs).
Top Seeds: (1) Mater Dei (17-8), (2) Central (14-13), (3) Carlyle (18-13), (4) Greenville
Pick to win: Mater Dei
Could Challenge: Carlyle or Central
Analysis: This is always one of the toughest regionals to predict because of local and conference rivalries. Mater Dei has enough experience and pitching to emerge with the title, but Central, Carlyle and Greenville all have enough talent to catch fire and roll into the sectional. Greenville is at home and won’t be an easy first-round matchup for Mater Dei if the Comets can knock off Vandalia in the opener.
Red Bud Regional
Top Seeds: (1) Nashville (26-6-1), (2) Gibault (15-15), (3) Chester, (4) Waltonville
Pick to win: Nashville
Could Challenge: Gibault
Analysis: After several years of having as much or more talent than any team in its regional, this could finally be the year the Nashville Hornets advance to the sectional again. Nashville’s blend of experience mixed with a strong sophomore class is impressive. Gibault's loaded lineup led by Chandler Purcell and Jordan McFarland will definitely be a factor, but do the Hawks have enough pitching to get it done?