With the season on the line, St. Anthony turned to Alex Hoelscher Monday for the Bulldogs’ National Trail Conference tournament quarterfinal against Neoga.
Hoelscher responded in a way coach Kenny Koenig could have only hoped for, pitching a complete game shutout and driving in the Bulldogs’ lone run in a 1-0 shutout win against the Indians.
St. Anthony’s senior starter had the confidence brimming before the game even started, according to his coach.
“Found a way, like I said last time, we needed that one guy to step up; Alex stepped (up) on both sides today,” Koenig said. “He said he wanted the ball, wanted to get off us this losing streak. He stepped up today.”
To get the Bulldogs on the board Hoelscher hit a rope to left field in the fifth inning and Eli Dasenbrock on second. Neoga left fielder Logan Rankin came in on the ball initially, but the liner stayed up and got over his head for an RBI double.
It’d be all St. Anthony needed, although it looked like they’d need more midway through the top of the sixth.
Zach Monroe reached on an error for Neoga followed by a single by Tyler Romack. With two on and no out, Jake Baker looked to lay down a bunt.
He was unsuccessful twice, and Dasenbrock caught Monroe a bit off second base on the second attempt. Dasenbrock fired a strike to Neil Williams, picking off Monroe and halting the rally.
Hoelscher struck out Baker, and despite allowing a single that could have scored Monroe if he hadn’t been picked off, kept the inning scoreless.
“It was a great play,” Koenig said. “The pitch before, the kid was jumping off a good eight, 10 feet.
“He sold it great ... standing up like he was going to throw it back (to the pitcher), and threw a perfect throw right to second base.”
While it was a big moment for St. Anthony, Neoga coach Ted Kerner wasn’t upset about Monroe getting picked off.
“That was very low on the list of bad things that happened that inning,” he said. “Not getting the bunt down, first of all, simple execution, moving two guys over.”
Neoga had its moments keeping St. Anthony off the board as well, most notably in the first. Jacob Lorenz and Williams both singled to lead off the inning, and moved to third with no outs on an Austin Bushur walk.
Kerner came out for a mound visit with starter Guy Walk, who responded by striking out Dasenbrock and Hoelscher and forcing Braden Puckett to pop out and keep things tied at 0-0.
Hoelscher struck out four and allowed four hits with one walk in his shutout. He was also 1-for-2 with the RBI double. Williams was 2-for-3 with two steals and a walk, Eric Gurtner and Brandon Puckett each went 1-for-3 and Dasenbrock was 1-for-2 with a stolen base and a run.
Romack, Walk, Trevor Moore and David Abernathy each went 1-for-3 for Neoga. Walk allowed one run on seven hits while striking out five and walking five, but didn’t get the run support necessary.
“When you don’t execute and make routine plays, you’re not going to score,” Kerner said.
St. Anthony does have improvements to make heading into Wednesday’s NTC semifinal showdown with Altamont. The Bulldogs left 11 runners on base, seven in scoring position.
But they have played Altamont tight in their two meetings this season (with one rain-cancelled game) and Koenig knows what it will take.
“We’ll have to step up and starting hitting the ball, hitting it hard,” he said. “I’m guessing we’re going to face Ziegler, the lefty, so we’re going to work the middle away. It’s going to take an all-around effort.”
The game begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Altamont.
Neoga 000 000 0 0 4 3
St. Anthony 000 010 X 1 7 1
WP - Hoelscher (7 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 4 K, 1 BB) LP - Walk (6 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 5 K, 5 BB)
Neoga: Romack (1-3); Moore (1-3); Walk (1-3); Abernathy (1-3); Baker (0-2, SB, BB)
St. Anthony: Lorenz (1-3, BB); Williams (2-3, 2 SB); Dasenbrock (1-2, R, SB); Hoelscher (1-2, 2B, RBI, BB); Gurtner (1-3); Bran. Puckett (1-3)