Asked to find moments that defined the dominance of Alton High senior left-hander Bryan Hudson this season, Redbirds coach Todd Haug had several.
But one of his favorites — and Hudson’s as well — was the time the Chicago Cubs third-round draft pick struck out the first nine hitters in order against the Collinsville Kahoks.
That’s not a typical occurrence in high school baseball, especially in the ultra-competitive Southwestern Conference.
Performances like that are among the reasons area coaches made Hudson a unanimous pick as the Belleville News-Democrat Large-School (Class 3A-4A) Baseball Player of the Year.
“There were several times this year where it was really unbelievable,” Haug said of Hudson, a University of Missouri recruit who was 10-2 this season with a 0.47 ERA and 150 strikeouts in 70 1/3 innings. “It reminds me of when I was a little boy putting these Nintendo baseball teams together. It was like video game stats with him all year, so it was really something that was amazing.”
Hudson recalled the Collinsville game as well. He threw six scoreless innings and struck out 13 while allowing three hits.
“I struck the whole lineup out,” Hudson said. “I don’t really think about that, but whenever I look back ... I always set the bar so high for myself that I don’t always look at the good things.”
There were many more good things than bad for Hudson, who turned in back-to-back dominant seasons for the Redbirds. While Alton couldn’t get past Edwardsville in the playoffs, the Redbirds still finished 30-7 and Hudson was a major reason why.
When he didn’t do it with his pitching, he helped the Redbirds at the plate. He led the team in average (.436), home runs (four), RBIs (49) and triples (six) and tied for the lead with 14 doubles.
Many of his strikeouts this season came on a devastating curveball that Haug claimed at least two conference teams told their hitters to avoid. That breaking pitch was a big reason Hudson was drafted in the third round.
“The curveball was the best pitch in the area this year, probably the best pitch in the state,” Haug said. “Why do him a favor by swinging at it early?”
In a 4-0 conference win over O’Fallon, Hudson slammed the door on the top of one of the area’s best lineups. He held the Panthers’ first four hitters to an 0-for-12 day with 10 strikeouts.
Hudson came on in relief in a game against Belleville East that was suspended because of darkness and threw 3 2/3 innings before and after the delay, striking out nine. After the first game was completed and the teams played another conference game that day in Alton, Hudson was the starter and threw 5 1/3 innings of no-hit ball with 13 strikeouts.
Hudson, whose fastball hovered in the high 80 to lower 90 mph range, had one no-hitter this season, three one-hitters and three two-hitters. Both his losses came against Edwardsville, including in the regional championship.
Hudson and Edwardsville senior shortstop Jordan Hovey were both chosen first-team Louisville Slugger All-Americans. Not surprisingly, Hovey and Hudson were the only two unanimous picks on the News-Democrat Baseball All-Area Team.
“The Southwestern Conference is a great conference and this year we had three of the best teams in Illinois,” Hudson said. “It’s unbelievable in almost all given years. It kind of stinks that we’re all together (in the playoffs). We knocked each other out and canceled each other’s run for the (state) title.”
Hudson leaves Alton holding school records for most career innings (198), tied for single-season wins (10), most career wins (25), lowest single-season ERA (0.47), lowest career ERA (1.23). He also owns Alton’s two highest strikeout totals (114 last year, 152 this year) and has the most career strikeouts (323).
“Like all great things in sports, you don’t often realize how good you have it or what kind of accomplishments are going on while they’re going on,” Haug said. “It was a luxury that you don’t find very often. Most of the time, you’d send this guy out there and you’re not only going to be in the game you were going to win the game.”
Every time out, Hudson was being examined intensely by someone. Opposing hitters wanted to be known as someone who got a hit off of someone that allowed only 34 of them in 70 1/3 innings.
There also were a steady stream of major league scouts, front-office officials (Cubs President Theo Epstein watched him twice in person) and others just interested in seeing how good Hudson was.
Despite the increasingly high expectations, Hudson usually delivered.
“I feel like we had a great season in general and ended up with a great record,” Hudson said. “We had a lot of young players step up and a lot of seniors that stepped up and helped to push it through.”
Hudson said the secret to avoiding pressure situations was inner focus.
“I don’t really think about things too much,” he said. “I’m pretty good at blocking stuff out. Whenever I get out on the mound, it’s just me and the catcher out there. I don’t may much attention to anything else.”
His best memory was being able to play with many teammates he had been with since their grade school days.
“Just being able to play with the guys I played with, many of them I’ve played with since I’ve been able to walk, was special.”
Highland’s Hawkins is Coach of the Year
Highland coach Joel Hawkins has always had a special ability when it comes to getting the most out of his teams. He has long used “small ball” to his advantage with constant bunts, stolen bases, hit and runs and other tactics that force the issue on opposing teams.
The Bulldogs got hot at the start of the playoffs and never cooled off, mixing in several dramatic come-from-behind victories on the way to winning their second state championship since 2008.
Highland (28-13) knocked off Nazareth Academy 7-6 in the 3A state title game in Joliet.
Large-School Baseball Players of the Year
2015: Bryan Hudson, Alton
2014: Blake Deatherage, O'Fallon
2013: Drew Curtis, Edwardsville; Keaton Wright, Triad
2012: Sam Hopkins, O'Fallon
2011: Garrett Schlecht, Waterloo
2010: Jake DePew, Granite City
2009: Nick Tindall, O'Fallon; Dane Opel, Edwardsville
2008: Jake Odorizzi, Highland
2007: John Flanagan, Belleville West
2006: Brian Gass, O'Fallon
2005: Kevin Hoef, Triad
2004: Evan Frey, Edwardsville
2003: Andy Tillotson, Belleville East
2002: Danny Jackson, Edwardsville
2001: Doug Walter, Mascoutah
2000: Brad Beatty, Althoff
1999: Andy Schutzenhofer, Belleville East
1998: Ben Hutton, Edwardsville
2015 Belleville News-Democrat
Large-School (Class 3A-4A) Baseball All-Area Team
Player of the Year
Bryan Hudson, Alton, sr.
Coach of the Year
Joel Hawkins, Highland
Pitcher: Daniel Lloyd, Edwardsville, sr.
Pitcher: Chris Holba, O'Fallon, sr.
Pitcher: Bradley Harrison, O'Fallon, jr.
Pitcher: Grant Geppert, Highland, sr.
Catcher: Keegan Baxmeyer, Freeburg, jr.
First Base: Bailey Zimmer, Edwardsville, sr.
Second Base: Mitchell Krebs, Edwardsville, sr.
Shortstop: Jordan Hovey, Edwardsville, sr.
Third Base: Cal Kossina, Belleville West, jr.
Outfield: Bradley Harrison, O'Fallon, jr.
Outfield: Matthew Zielonko, Edwardsville, sr.
Outfield: D.J. Miller, Granite City, sr.
Outfield: Cameron Touchette, Columbia, jr.
DH: Bruce Drennan, Granite City, sr.
Utility: Aaron Jackson, Edwardsville, sr.
Pitcher: Aaron Jackson, Edwardsville, sr.
Pitcher: Brady Schanuel, Belleville East, sr.
Pitcher: Corey Vogel, Waterloo, sr.
Pitcher: Matt Klosterman, Belleville West, sr.
Catcher: Jacob Wilson, Belleville West, sr.
First Base: Grant Geppert, Highland, sr.
First Base: Bradley Snyder, O'Fallon, jr.
Second Base: Spencer Piquard, Belleville West, sr.
Second Base: Mitch Reising, Collinsville, sr.
Shortstop: Matt Klosterman, Belleville West, sr.
Third Base: Kyle Van Bevern, O'Fallon, sr.
Third Base: Brady Schanuel, Belleville East, sr.
Outfield: Cody Siebenberger, Freeburg, sr.
Outfield: Collin Clayton, Edwardsville, jr.
Outfield: Andrew Winning, Highland, jr.
Outfield: Ryan Aycock, Waterloo, sr.
DH: Jake Garella, Edwardsville, jr.
Utility: Cody Bentlage, Highland, sr.
Miles Brunk, Belleville East; Ben Cusac, Alton; Elias Czech, Freeburg; Jake Garella, Edwardsville; Mitch Harlan, Belleville East; Tyler Kimmle, Highland; Noah Kraljev, Mascoutah; Nolan Maue, Freeburg; Daniel Milas, Mascoutah; Trey Riley, Edwardsville; Chris Robinson, Edwardsville; Noah Thaggard, Waterloo; Connor Waltsgott, Mascoutah; Brendan Wilhelm, Columbia; Luke Yaekel, Freeburg
Matt Augustin, Highland; Aaron Bonnell, Alton; Jeff Hightower, Mascoutah; Dylan McEwen, Collinsville; Drew Millas, Belleville East
Brian Dougherty, Columbia; Jacob Kanallakan, Alton; Tyler McAlister, Waterloo
Chris Holba, O'Fallon; Brendan Schanz, Mascoutah; Jacob Skrabacz, Alton
Camden Bauer, O'Fallon; Ty Dill, Freeburg; Zach Mathews, Columbia; Steven Nguyen, Alton; Kane Osterhage, Waterloo
Drake Hampton, Alton; Aaron Jackson, Edwardsville; Corey Price, Civic Memorial
Derrick Allen, Alton; Chase Barnes, Mascoutah; Caleb Buhs, Civic Memorial; Nick Crabtree, O'Fallon; Devin Daniels, Civic Memorial; Wyatt Elbe, Mascoutah; Nate Funk, Triad; Luke Glaeser, Belleville West; Will Greenwald, Highland; Matt Hopkins, Alton; Jack Lanxon, Belleville West; Lamont Read, Columbia; Derrick Rozycke, Freeburg; Dillon Weiss, O'Fallon
Dylan Burris, Edwardsville; Brett Degener, Waterloo; Noah Dressler, Mascoutah; Brandon Harris, Collinsville