It wasn’t exactly textbook baseball, but the Althoff Crusaders found a way to survive and advance.
The Crusaders pushed across two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday for a thrilling 5-4 come-from-behind victory over Wesclin to win the Class 2A Dupo Regional.
“It just all fell into place,” was the way Althoff coach Brett Isaacs described the victory, which sends the Crusaders (19-8) into a semifinal against Central (17-14) at 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Vandalia Sectional.
Wesclin (18-12) had just broken a 4-4 tie in the top of the eighth when Brent Lengacher belted a leadoff triple to right and scored the go-ahead run on a one-out sacrifice fly to left by Quinn Belva.
Althoff, which to that point had managed only five hits against Wesclin starter Jared Timmermann, ignited the eighth-inning rally with a leadoff walk to senior Austin Keen.
Keen, who had been thrown out stealing in the first — and who had thrown well over 100 pitches through seven innings on the mound —was asked to steal second base.
“Austin did a phenomenal job today because he didn’t have much,” Isaacs said of Keen, who also threw three relief innings Thursday to close out a 3-2 semifinal win over Dupo. “This wasn’t the regular Austin Keen that you’ll see because Thursday wore him down a little bit and then in the second inning (today) he twisted his ankle.
“He was hobbling the rest of the day and I was worried that he wasn’t going to be able to steal a base. He got that base and did some dance moves out at second to get out of a rundown.”
Keen was nearly lost on the bases in a rundown when Ben Hankammer hit a ground back back to relief pitcher Jarad Steenbergen, but Keen made his way back safely to second.
Althoff catcher Bret Silvestri isn’t known for his bunting skills, but got one down and was called safe at first on a close play to load the bases.
“(The umpire) said he beat it out,” Wesclin coach John Groennert said.
That loaded the bases for Jake Frazier, who slapped an RBI single into right field to tie it 4-4. Steenbergen fell behind 3-0 on Seth Bertelsman, then walked Bertelsman on a 3-1 pitch to force in the winning run.
Consider it a walk-off walk.
“Their pitcher threw one heck of a game,” Keen said of Timmermann. “He’s just a great kid. I’m just glad we could fight. I can’t even walk barely, I threw everything out on the table and so did the team. I’m exhausted.”
Both teams had defensive lapses that led to runs for the opposition.
Althoff’s first two runs came on a wild pitch and a passed ball. Wesclin scored a run in the third on a hit batter and a bases-loaded walk by Keen, then got another run in the fourth when Dylan Weh doubled and scored from third on a throwing error by Silvestri.
“When you look at this game, it looks like a good game but it was not well played on either side,” Groennert said. “We scored our early runs on balls that they threw away and gave us a couple runs. That’s what costs you in regionals. You’ve got to make plays and we didn’t do it.
“That’s just the bottom line. We didn’t hit enough and we didn’t make plays when we had to make them.”
Trailing 2-1 in the fourth, courtesy runner Connor O’Dell scored from third on a passed ball. Bertelsman singled and Stephen Toenjes followed with an RBI double over the head of the center fielder to give Althoff a 3-2 lead.
That lead lasted until the sixth, when back-to-back doubles by Belva and Kenny Hagarty tied it 3-3.
That set the stage for the eighth, when Wesclin scored a run and seemed poised to win only to watch Althoff snatch the regional title away.
“We haven’t asked (Silvestri) to bunt all year and he puts down a perfect bunt and they misplay it, (then) Jake gets a huge hit,” Isaacs said. “It just all fell into place. When you put on that much pressure, bases loaded and the game on the line and a regional on the line, it’s tough for a kid. I feel bad for their kid pitching that walked (Bertelsman), but we’ve got to take it.”
At a glance
▪ Althoff scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, including the game-winner on a bases loaded walk.
▪ The win earns Althoff a regional championship.
▪ The Crusaders will take on Central at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the sectional.