Despite managing only five hits on Thursday, Althoff’s best offensive strategy was hitting doubles and taking advantage of the opportunities.
Althoff had three doubles Thursday and scored after each one of them, edging Dupo 3-2 in the Class 2A Dupo Regional semifinals on a fifth-inning squeeze bunt by Jake Frazier.
“We’ve worked on things like that so hard because we hadn’t done it a lot early in the year, didn’t have to,” Althoff coach Brett Isaacs said of Frazier’s squeeze bunt, which scored Ben Hankammer. “In the postseason you’ve got to do things like that and I give (Frazier) a lot of credit because that kid threw pretty hard. He got the ball down in a perfect spot and that’s a huge situation there.
Top-seeded Althoff (18-8) had beaten Dupo 11-1 on May 1, but Thursday the Crusaders watched their playoffs turn into a one-and-done scenario.
Leading 2-0 in the third, they watched Dupo tie it with two runs in the fourth on a sacrifice fly by Joey Mirabal and a two-out RBI double by Drake Harvell.
Althoff regained the lead in the fifth, but a throwing error by Althoff shortstop Rory Keen put a Dupo runner at second base with no outs in the top of the seventh. Althoff ace right-hander Austin Keen, who relieved Hankammer to start the fifth inning, threw a wild pickoff attempt to second and pinch-runner Jacob Williams found himself at third with no one out.
Keen struck out the next three hitters looking to preserve the win and send Althoff into the regional championship at 11 a.m. Saturday. The Crusaders will take on the winner of the Wesclin-Metro-East Lutheran semifinal, being played at 4 p.m. Friday at Dupo.
“When we threw away the pickoff and gave them third base with nobody out, with most pitchers you’re thinking they’re going to score because all they’ve got to do is put the ball in play,” Isaacs said. “But Austin at times can be that person - which is so comforting about him because you know he can strike out the next three if he’s in a tight spot like that. Not many kids can.
“That’s why we brought him in, because it was so close and we wanted to make sure we got that one. You’ve got to win this one and you worry about Saturday later.”
Keen (8-1), a senior right-hander headed to Kentucky, struck out six in three hitless innings of relief.
Dupo finished the season 11-14, but threw quite a scare into Althoff. Tigers coach Brad Daubach felt confident with Harvell coming to the plate with no outs and a runner at third, but Harvell struck out on a borderline called third strike.
“Golden opportunity,” Daubach said. “Probably the hottest hitter on our team right now was up to bat. He doubled earlier and he’s the one that hit the big home run against Roxana the other night. You don’t think bunt, you think he’s going to get the job done. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
Hankammer doubled in the first and scored on a two-out RBI single by catcher Bret Silvestri. Austin Keen doubled in the third and scored on a bases-loaded walk to Frazier, who didn’t have a hit but still drove in two of Althoff’s three runs.
“They came to play,” Hankammer said of Dupo. “We grinded it out with them and thankfully we came out on top. We didn’t want to take them lightly and they showed us why they deserved to be here.
“We’re happy thast we got the No. 1 seed, but it doesn’t mean anything. We’ve got to come ready to play every day. Any game could be our last.”
It was the last game for Dupo, but Daubach was encouraged by his team’s progress.
“I thought we had all the momentum in the world when we tied it up,” said Daubach, the brother of former Boston Red Sox player Brian Daubach. “We’ve still got to put the ball in play (in the seventh), we can’t just leave the bats on our shoulders. I just feel bad; we hit a ground ball to short or a ground ball to second and we at least tie the game.
“We’re playing some really good baseball now, this is the best we’ve played in years. I wish we could keep going.”