When the 2015 baseball season is analyzed in the annals of Alton High School history, there will be plenty to remember.
The Redbirds set the new benchmark in wins for the program, going 30-7. The previous high mark had been 28, set in 2001 under former coach Mike Bellm and matched in 2013 under current head coach Todd Haug.
Individually, phenom southpaw pitcher Bryan Hudson raised the bar by setting a slew of season and career pitching marks for the Birds.
Unfortunately, Alton saw its season conclude in a 5-2 loss to the Edwardsville Tigers in the Class 4A Edwardsville Regional finals. It was a bittersweet ending to a stellar campaign.
“I think that was definitely a goal for us, but as wins started to accumulate it was less of a priority,” Haug said. “To get to 30 wins is great, but more so we wanted to be playing our best ball at the end of the season and I can say that we were. We really hit our stride as May rolled around. We split with a team (O’Fallon) whose gone the furthest (from Southwestern Conference) and it shows how competitive across the board baseball in our area was this year.”
An 11-3 record in the SWC is nothing to scoff at. It left AHS in a tie for second with O’Fallon, but with Edwardsville tallying a flawless 14-0 conference mark — the first undefeated SWC season since EHS did it in 1998 — a league crown evaded the Redbirds.
“The conference this year was incredibly strong and any other year this could have been a conference title for us,” Haug said. “There are certain years 11-3 wins the conference, but it just so happens our year of talent also coincided with Edwardsville and (Tim) Funkhouser’s best team in 15 years.
“It’s bittersweet, but it’s a stepping stone for us. We still have our same long-range goals and the program is growing, so we’ll take what we learned and set a new benchmark.”
While there are roles to fill next season with graduating seniors, the cupboard is not bare for Alton entering 2016.
“All-in-all I’ve got 10 lettermen coming back next year,” Haug said.
Offensively, the Birds will return catcher Aaron Bonnell (.374, 10 2Bs, 2 HRs, 22 RBIs), first baseman Jacob Kanallakan (.339, 36 RBIs) center fielder Derrick Allen (.311, 38 Rs, 17 RBIs), shortstop Steven Nguyen (.302, 30 Rs, 19 RBIs) and third baseman Steven Pattan (.286, 14 RBIs) to form a formidable bunch.
On the mound there’s Nick Cauley (5-2, 4.71 ERA, 39 Ks), Jacob St. Peters (3-0, 3.21 ERA, 25 Ks) and Sam Ballard (4-0, 2.25 ERA, 36 Ks) to anchor the staff.
Add a successful freshmen class from ‘15 and the future is bright. AHS has its largest group of youth campers coming in this summer, so success is breeding numbers.
“If you look at what we’re losing from a baseball standpoint with the type of program that we have, I feel very comfortable and confident in — the term would be reload,” Haug said. “We actually have more all-conference guys coming back than we did this previous year. We’re going to need some juniors transitioning to seniors to step up and do what a Scrappy (Jacob Skrabacz) did, what a (Ben) Cusac did, what a (Drake) Hampton did, but we’ve definitely got the personnel to do that.”
Hudson (10-2, 0.46 ERA, 152 Ks) (.436, 14 2Bs, 6 3Bs, 4 HRs, 49 RBIs), who signed to pitch with Mizzou and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the third round on Tuesday, was joined by Matt Hopkins (.295, 1 HR, 29 RBIs), Brendan Phillips (.339, 10 RBIs), Drake Hampton (.345, 14 2Bs, 5 3Bs, 24 RBIs), Jacob Skrabacz (.307, 17 RBIs) and Ben Cusac (7-2, 1.45 ERA, 55 Ks) to lead the charge for the senior class. Carlos Anderson, Matt Bower and Carter Hayden round out the group of graduates.
Hopkins, who is signed to play at Air Force, and Hudson were major contributors for three years for the Redbirds.
“Matty Hop (Matt Hopkins) was a three-year starter for us and was really a solid bat for us coming down the home stretch and we wish him the best (at Air Force) as well,” Haug said. “It’s difficult to replace a big time stick and in this case a big time left-handed stick. We had two big lefties in the middle of our lineup in Huddy and Hop and they’re going on to bigger things and we wish them the best; we’re going to be fans of them and watch and relish in their accomplishments.”
Haug won’t forget the barrage of attention over Hudson. The senior southpaw had scouts galore following him throughout the season. Even Cubs’ President Theo Epstein showed up at Lloyd Hopkins Field.
The experience for Haug will last a lifetime, but it will be comforting to focus on prep baseball fully again next season.
“I loved every minute of it because I knew it may never happen again,” Haug said. “That doesn’t mean it was wonderful to deal with everything on a daily basis. Sometimes it was like a circus, but the person that made it the easiest was Bryan, because Bryan never got a big head and never drew too much attention to himself ... He made it easy on everybody just by the way he conducted his business. Next year might be a little less hectic in terms of having to communicate with a lot of people on a daily basis, but I wouldn’t change this year for anything.”
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