After being forced to battle from behind all afternoon, the Columbia Eagles found themselves down by a run in the bottom of the ninth Tuesday with the sun quickly sinking below the horizon.
Zach Mathews fought his way into the spotlight with a two-out RBI single that gave Columbia its first Cahokia Conference baseball win of the season, a 6-5 victory over the Wesclin Warriors.
“It was geting dark, kind of like the Okawville game,” Mathews said after his line drive single off Wesclin reliever Jared Timmermann scored pinch-runner Matt Hutchinson from third. “We wanted to get this one in. I had an at-bat earlier where I could have driven in a run and hit one on the ground, so I just wanted to get another chance. I finally put a good swing on the ball.”
Columbia (1-2 in league play, 10-4 overall) trailed 3-0 in the fourth on a three-run homer by Brent Lengacher against Eagles starter Jacob Hill. Columbia came right back with four runs in the bottom of the fourth on a pair of bases-loaded walks and a two-run single by J.T. Broshears.
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Wesclin (2-1, 11-4), ranked first in the News-Democrat Small-School poll, tied it 4-4 in the sixth on a double-steal that saw Brendan Bernhardt score from third base. The Warriors then took the lead on Timmermann’s RBI single in the seventh, but Columbia refused to go away.
Down to their final out in the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles stayed alive on a two-out, RBI double by Patrick McDermott.
Columbia reliever Brendan Wilhelm (4-0) sidestepped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for the heroics in the bottom of the inning.
Columbia’s Brian Dougherty battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a two-out walk. He went to second on a wild pitch, then pinch-runner Hutchinson made it to third on another wild pitch.
Mathews, the nephew of former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher and former Columbia standout T.J. Mathews, sent everyone home with an RBI single.
“It’s been kind of a theme this year, the other team scores and then we’ll come back and put some on the board,” Mathews said. “We do a pretty good job of answering back whenever the other teams put pressure on us.”
Whatever it takes.
“That was huge, not only to win the game but it was huge for Zach,” Columbia coach Keith Jany said. “He’s been putting a lot of pressure on himself lately, struggling a little bit at the plate, but he’s starting to get his timing back now.
“He’s hit the ball hard at times right at people and it was nice to see him get some results for all the hard work he’s put in.”
Wesclin coach John Groennert took issue with a variety of things he saw his team do Tuesday.
“Give their kids credit, they had kids step up and they were gamers,” Groennert said. “They got hits when they needed them. When we had pitches up, they hit the ball. We gave this one to them. I give their kids credit for battling and getting big two-out hits...
“I give them all the credit in the world. They had two kids step up with two outs and the game on the line, down a run, tie ballgame. They found way to get hits, they drove the ball to the outfield - and we didn’t do that.”
Groennert’s club left 11 runners on base and managed only one run out of bases-loaded situations in the seventh and ninth. Wesclin also had runners at third three times with less than two outs and failed to get them home.
“We did not handle situations well, we didn’t pitch well and our hitting is what it is,” Groennert said.
Though they didn’t have a conference win before Tuesday, the Eagles basked in the confidence of handing Wesclin’s its first league loss.
“With them being 2-0 and us being 0-2, we kind of put ourselves up against a wall,” Jany said. “It was a huge win for us; we wanted to give ourselves a shot at winning the conference and playing well against some of those (top teams).”
Alton 4, O’Fallon 0: In a battle between two pitchers that could be selected by major-league teams in the June draft, Alton senior left-hander Bryan Hudson came out on top Tuesday against O’Fallon senior right-hander Chris Holba.
Hudson (5-1), a Missouri recruit whose starts have featured numerous scouts in attendance this spring, allowed two hit and struck out 14. He also issued six walks (two intentional) as Alton (13-3) improved to 4-1 in Southwestern Conference play while O’Fallon (12-6) dropped to 4-2.
Hudson has an incredible 71 strikeouts in just 30 1/3 innings this season. Alton coach Todd Haug said there were 16 major league teams represented with scouts in attendance Tuesday at Alton, including multiple team scouting directors.
“He was locked in,” Haug said. “He really held the top of their lineup in check; I think their top four hitters were 0-for-10 with nine strikeouts.”
Haug said Hudson’s fastball was clocked at 90-92 mph today, with Holba’s reaching as high as 89 mph.
Holba, headed to Division I East Carolina, struck out six in five innings and surrendered four unearned runs.
“(Hudson) and Holba were absolutely dealing and both got stronger as the game went on,” Haug said. “It was arguably two of the best pitchers in the state going at it in a big-time Southwestern Conference game.”
Alton broke things open in the fifth when the Redbirds got a two-run single from Steven Pattan and an RBI single by Aaron Bonnell.