ALTON — Without looking at the complete package, one would think Alton’s Bryan Hudson had an ordinary year.
A 9-5 record would be cause for such reasoning, but for those that watched Hudson pitch for the 22-15 Redbirds that came within an eyelash of winning a regional championship this past spring, they understand things a little bit better.
An imposing figure at 6-foot-7, Hudson could drop a curveball that makes a batter’s knees buckle, then blow a fastball by a hitter always thinking about the next off-speed delivery. He was Alton’s go-to guy against the toughest opponents. And in the Southwestern Conference, it was always a challenging day.
Hudson would finish with school records in ERA (1.28) and strikeouts (114) in a season in 76 2/3 innings. He allowed 14 earned runs with 43 walks and opponents hit only .157 against The Telegraph Large-Schools Player of the Year.
“Bryan’s a tremendous talent,” Alton coach Todd Haug said. “What’s most exciting about Bryan is he’s still trending upward. There’s a lot more that we’re going to see in the next year and going forward. The sky’s the limit for this big boy.”
Hudson, who’s receiving college interest from prominent Big 10 and SEC schools and being noticed by big-league clubs already, lost four games this season by one run — all against conference opponents Collinsville (twice, 3-2 and 2-1), Belleville West (1-0) and in the regional championship game against Edwardsville (1-0 on a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh).
It’s cliche but when looking at Hudson’s record, it’s best not to judge a book by its cover.
“At the higher level, if you want to look at something as arbitrary as the win-loss record, that’s fine,” Haug said. “But in modern-day baseball, I think people that truly understand the game, don’t look at the win-loss record. Even though he was 9-5 and suffered a few tough losses, I think if you look at the intangibles of not just getting school records in strikeouts and earned-run average, it’s blowing away the competition.
“Not beating it closely but beating it by a large margin. Many, many times this year, he was unhittable. He carried several no-hitters and did throw one no-hitter. It’s all in the growing process that we still can’t wait to see the end of the rainbow for him. It’s going to be a pretty amazing situation.”
Hudson was really astute on the mound for the most part but he also gives the Redbirds a strong dimension as an outfielder and at the plate. Hudson hit .327 and tied for Nick Paulda for the team lead in doubles (12), led them in home runs with five and also contributed 33 RBIs.
But when it was time for Haug to turn to an ace against the Tigers and Kahoks, O’Fallon, Belleville East and Belleville West, among other stronger opponents, there was no question who was getting the ball.
“Understand that he’s not throwing against weaker competition,” Haug said. “He’s always throwing against the best competition that we had for the week. With those numbers, the stories behind it, which most people don’t understand, he’s doing that with one or two pitches. He was not the complete package that we’re grooming him to be. He was throwing arguably the best curveball the area’s ever seen and showing a fastball.
“The interesting part is the fastball has come alive over the course of the last month, and that’s what you’re going to see going forward as he becomes a high, high level prospect in the Midwest.”
Hudson, who is also a starter for the Redbirds’ basketball team, will undoubtedly be Alton’s ace next spring. A few finishing touches from a mental aspect will help him go a long way at the next level and beyond.
“His focus, learning to actually be a pitcher, not just rely on one pitch,” Haug said. “When a pitcher has a devastating pitch, they kind of rely on it like a crutch. They know no one can hit it but it slows down the development of the complete package. Being able to throw three pitches consistently, staying focused, he had some walks this year … two strikes, two outs and someone would come back and walk with nobody on. Little things like that he can mentally prepare for.
“When you’ve got a kid that’s between 6-7 and 6-8 and he’s starting his breaking ball at nine feet and it’s dropping at your ankles, no one at the high school level has seen something like that. Combine that with the fact that he is developing a devastating changeup, add into the mix that his fastball is hitting into the low 90’s, we’ve got something in the area we’ve never seen.”