Daniel Lloyd had only one job to do — keep pace with Alton All-Everything pitcher and likely major league draftee, Bryan Hudson with a class 4A regional baseball championship on the line.
That's no easy assignment, for sure, but the senior has pitched in tight spots before. He was 9-0 last season with a sub-1.00 ERA for a team that won 30 games and advanced to a super-sectional.
On paper, Lloyd was every bit Hudson's equal in the regional title game Monday. On the scoreboard he was the superior.
The Tigers defeated Alton, 5-2, and will advance to the Normal Community-West Sectional against another Southwestern Conference opponent, O'Fallon.
"I felt like coming in it was going to be a low scoring game and that I'd have to make my pitches and be better than I have been all season," Lloyd said. "There was some hype behind the game, but tried to make it seem like a normal game to me."
Statistically, Lloyd was true to his season trends. He held the Redbirds hitless through four innings before eventually allowing one hit each in the fifth, sixth and seventh. He struck out six and walked three, including two in the sixth.
Hudson was good, too, but not dominant.
He had averaged 13.5 strikeouts per game entering the regional, but set down just four Tiger hitters Monday, two looking and two swinging. And all but one Edwardsville batter reached base during the game, which set the Tigers up to manufacture five runs on just four hits.
Hudson didn’t get much help from his defense during a critical fifth inning, when the Tigers scored three unearned, all on one two-error play. Hudson had allowed just four earned runs all season.
Lloyd, meanwhile got plenty of support from the Edwardsville defense. The game turned, both head coaches agreed, on an outstanding third-inning catch by Tigers’ left fielder Fahd Shakeel.
The Redbirds' Steven Nguyen drew a lead-off walk and stole second base. Derrick Allen roped a sinking liner into left which Shakeel snagged with a diving, back-hand effort to steal a hit, save a run, and keep momentum away from Hudson.
"They play their infield incredibly shallow at times so that it sometimes it feels like they've got everybody bunched on on the infield," said Alton coach Todd Haug. " If you burn them, you burn them, but the majority of the time they are going to take away the little clunker. In this case, they took away that first run. It took some momentum away from us.
"I think early on, had we gotten him a run, it might have changed things a little bit."
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouse agreed that Hudson with a lead is even harder to beat.
"That had to be the play of the game, especially at that point of the game," he said.
The Tigers earned the early lead with two runs in the fourth. Jake Garella plated one run with a ground ball to short that scored Colin Clayton. Shakeel made it a 2-0 game by scoring Aaron Jackson on a safety squeeze.
"Situationally we did some good things," Funkhouser said. "Obviously, it's hard to hit off Hudson and put the ball in play, but we had some guys able to fight some balls off to get to the next pitch, and then Fahd Shakeel executed the safety squeeze and Jake executed (with runners on) second and third on the prior at-bat."
Haug agreed with Funkhouser on that point, too.
“The execution that they have is unparalleled in terms of what we've seen this year,” he said.
And that helped Lloyd get the lead that eluded Hudson and the Redbirds.
"There's no doubt their guy gets attention because he's top flight, but we like our guy a lot," Funkhouser said of the opposing pitchers. "Daniel Lloyd always produces for us. Each time he goes out he's exceptional. He's one our regionals and some big games for us in the post-season and conference. There's no doubt he's been outstanding."
The regional loss brought a disappointing end to a historic season for the Redbirds. Their 30 wins were the most in school history, beating out the 28 they got just two years ago under Haug.
"Often times you accomplish something and three weeks later you say 'what did we just do?'" Haug said. "So we've tried to keep some perspective. It's a real positive environment with the boys. They know what they've done. We just spend a half hour reminding them."
Game at a Glance
EDWARDSVILLE With three unearned runs in the fifth inning, Edwardsville defeated Alton and likely major league draftee Bryan Hudson, 5-2, to win its own class 4A regional baseball tournament.
The Tigers will advance to the Normal Community-West Sectional against O’Fallon, winners of the Granite City Regional, at a time and place yet to be determined.
PITCHING: Edwardsville senior Daniel Lloyd allowed just three hits in six and a third innings, striking out six and walking three. Jake Garella got the last two outs to pick up the save. Hudson, who had allowed just four earned runs all season long, allowed two earned runs in the Edwardsville fourth. He struck out four and walked two and allowed just four Tiger hits.
TIGER FOURTH: Jodran Hovey led off with a walk and Colin Clayton followed with a single. With one out, Garella bounced a ground ball to the shortstop, whose throw home wasn’t in time to get Hovey. Clayton scored on a safety squeeze bunt by Fahd Shakeel. EDWARSVILLE 2, ALTON 0
TIGER FIFTH: Edwarsdville loaded the bases with hits by Bailey Zimmer and Mitchell Krebs, and a walk to Hovey. Alton shortstop Drake Hampton bobbled a ground ball by Aaron Jackson and was late on the attempted force out at first, allowing Zimmer to score from third. First baseman Jacob Kanallakan threw wide in an attempt to get Krebs at home, allowing Hovey to score as well. EDWARDSVILLE 5, ALTON 0
REDBIRD SIXTH: Jacob Skrabacz doubled to right-center, Matt Hopkins walked and both advanced on a wild pitch. Skrabacz scored on another wild pitch and Hopkins scored on a ground out by Kanallakan. EDWARDSVILLE 5, ALTON 0.
RECORDS: Edwardsville 35-1, Alton 30-7