By Jim Cotter
Good baseball teams find ways to keep their opponents at bay and then, at the opportune moment, strike to gain momentum.
The St. Joseph-Ogden boys varsity baseball team kept their postseason run alive with a 5-1 win over the Paris Tigers in the championship game of a Class 2A sectional on a very warm Saturday afternoon at the Glenn Fisher Sports Complex in St. Joseph.
The Spartans were enjoying the benefits of playing at home due to being the higher seed throughout this round of the postseason, and with junior Tyler Alenbaumer on the hill, figured their chances were as good as any in the past of advancing further.
Altenbaumer, who threw on Monday in the regional championship over Oakwood, took advantage of an extra day of rest to come back and throw against the Tigers, perhaps the most important game in his baseball career.
“I knew before the game started that I could go all the way today because I’ve done it multiple times this season and knew I could do it again. After that first inning, I locked down and my teammates picked me up and I knew that I would not let them (Paris) score on me again,” Altenbaumer said after the game on his mentality heading into the game and surviving a somewhat rocky first inning.
Paris jumped ahead 1-0 after their first at bat on a pair of hits that culminated in a single by Tiger third baseman Drew Pinkston, scoring their first run of the game.
SJO stranded runners in the first three innings but could not get anything across against Paris starter Hunter Cash. Meanwhile, Altenbaumer did what he needed to do to keep the Tigers from scoring any more runs and from there, let his offense do the damage.
“He (Cash) settled in after we got a few baserunners on, and we weren’t productive with the hits early when we needed to be. We left runners at third with less than two out, where we are normally much better at, and we knew we would get to him at some point,” SJO head coach Josh Haley said after his team’s win about getting to the Paris hurler eventually.
With Paris still leading 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Spartans sent the top of the order to the plate in hopes of scoring some of those runs that they were stranding. Paris helped with a couple of fielding errors that tied the game, then another error that loaded the bases for left fielder Isaiah Immke, a senior that has been swinging a sizzling bat as of late.
With the Paris outfield shading Immke to the right, the senior took advantage of the extra room in left field and laced a frozen rope up against the fence, clearing the bases and giving the Spartans a 4-1 lead. SJO would add another run in the inning to take a 5-1 lead into the sixth, where Altenbaumer took over.
I knew his (Cash’s) pitch count was high and if I worked the count full, I would eventually get a good pitch to hit, and I did. Tyler pitched an incredible ballgame and I said in the dugout before I went to the plate that if I came up, I wanted the bases loaded, and I did and got the hit that put us ahead,” Immke said following the game on his hit and what he was thinking heading to the plate.
“Our 7-8-9 hitters act like they’re 3-4-5 in the lineup, and I’ve said this before that I don’t care where any of our players bat in the lineup, they are a tough out. I cannot say enough about Isaiah and his senior leadership in getting that big hit for us today. I told our guys at our fall contact days to prepare for a postseason and our goal was to get back to state, and that was the goal that we made back then,” Haley added on his team’s versatility in the lineup from top to bottom and the mentality of seeing the goal that that set months back.
Zach Martinie and leadoff hitter Hayden Brazelton recorded the other two hits for the Spartans (33-2), who preserved the win for Altenbaumer (10-0).
Paris finishes their season a very respectable 25-4, and St. Joseph-Ogden will move on to the Decatur Super Sectional, which will be held on Monday, June 14 at the Workman Family Baseball Complex on the campus of Millikin University.
The Spartans will play Springfield Sacred Heart Griffin, who are 32-1 on the season and defeated Virden North Mac 10-0 on Friday afternoon to punch their ticket to the super sectional contest. Game time from Decatur on Monday is set for a 4 p.m first pitch.