A pair of former teammates on the Pinckneyville American Legion baseball team will meet at the Class 2A Vandalia Sectional on Wednesday when Althoff takes on Central in a 4 p.m. semifinal game.
Althoff coach Brett Isaacs and Central coach Kevin Crask both played together at that time along with Crask’s older brother.
“He was the catcher and I was shortstop,” Isaacs said of Crask, whose Central squad won its first regional since 2006 on Saturday with a 13-12 victory over Greenville. “He was a really good defensive catcher and could throw it on a dime down to second all the time.”
Isaacs enjoyed Althoff’s first regional title since 2009 as the Crusaders (19-8) came from behind with two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday to edge Wesclin 5-4.
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“Doing it for 20 years, you realize how hard those are to get so every one of them is special,” Isaacs said. “To get to participate in a sectional is a big deal.”
Even though they were Legion teammates, the two were rivals as players since Isaacs played for Pinckneyville High and Crask played for Nashville.
Good friends ever since, the pair also met April 27 when Althoff senior left-hander Ben Hankammer shut down on the Cougars on two hits and struck out six in a 7-0 victory.
Shouldn’t that game help the Crusaders’ confidence a bit as they prepare for their first sectional appearance since 2009?
“Yes, but at the same time you also know that every team that’s won a regional feels good about themselves and has also confidence,” Isaacs said. “We’ll see their best effort, there’s no doubt.”
A year ago, an even younger Central club posted a pair of upsets in the regional and got to the title game before losing. This time the Cougars (17-14) got the job done and were able to hold on against the host Greenville Comets in one of the wilder regional games in recent memory.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen one like that in the playoffs,” Crask said. “They didn’t quit, didn’t give up. They came through with some big hits and some quality at-bats.
“I’ve seen some good things, especially from the seniors. There’s a lot of maturity. Last year they didn’t know how to handle the situation or handle the pressure. Once they’ve been exposed to it, it’s easier to handle.”
Central’s Mitchel Rule (3-3, 2.16 ERA) could be the starter in the sectional opener.
Among Central’s top hitters are Brandon Richter (.364, nine doubles, 19 RBIs), Dillon Smith (.347, 10 doubles, one homer, 23 RBIs), Kolby Schulte (.313, 11 RBIs) and Jack Strieker (.304, 16 RBIs).
Brent Timmons and Smith each had big home runs in the regional.
“They’re a real solid team, I don’t see a lot of weaknesses,” Isaacs said. “They try to put pressure on you and they play the game the right way.”
With senior Austin Keen throwing more than 100 pitches Saturday and also being used in relief Thursday in the regional semifinals, the Crusaders could turn to Hankammer (4-4, 3.77 ERA).
Althoff still relies heavily on the top of its order with the potent bats of Hankammer (.420, 10 doubles, 19 RBIs), speedy leadoff man Sam Haudrich (.404, eight doubles, four triples, 10 RBIs, 32 runs, 22 stolen bases), Keen (.379, 16 RBIs, 20 stolen bases), Bret Silvestri (.303, 16 RBIs) and Jake Frazier (.290, 13 RBIs).
“Our top three hitters do a lot for us, but probably the biggest thing in the last three weeeks has been other guys doing more,” Isaacs said. “All of them have chipped in and done more and that’s sort of taken the pressure off those first three.”
Southwestern (26-9) and Teutopolis meet in the second sectional semifinal at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The championship is set for noon Saturday.
Southwestern’s top pitcher is junior Collin Baumgartner (8-2, 1.57 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 67 innings).
2A Nashville Sectional
The host Nashville Hornets (28-6-1) are loaded with pitching and could have enough offense to make a state tournament run. They open sectional play at 4:30 p.m. Thusday against Carmi-White County, while Harrisburg and Du Quoin battle in the other semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. The sectional championship is at 11 a.m. Saturday.
1A Carlinville Sectional
The suddenly hot Okawville Rockets (13-17) will take on Carrrollton in the sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Blackburn College. Mulberry Grove plays Morrisonville in the other semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, with the championship game set for 1 p.m. Saturday.
Okawville has won five straight led by Brad Fuhrhop (.416, four homers, 22 RBIs), Alec Wisneski (.357, three homers, 27 RBIs) and Nick Strubhart (.267, 15 RBIs). The top pitchers for the Rockets are Brendan Killion (5-3, 2.64 ERA), Strubhart (2-6, 4.30 ERA) and Mason Drury (2-5, 4.88 ERA).