The postgame scene was a very emotional one Monday, as St. Elmo baseball coach Ryan Beccue said goodbye to a boatload of seniors following a 3-0 loss to the host team in the championship game of the Altamont Class 1A Regional.
"I just appreciate all the dedication they've shown over the years," said Beccue of his 10 seniors. "Having that many kids from one class at a small school do what they do, I can never tell them how much they mean to me."
Beccue credited his seniors for raising the status of the program to new heights.
"They have changed the way people look at St. Elmo baseball and St. Elmo sports, in general," Beccue said.
To such a degree that the Eagles have become a team that regularly draws opposing team's aces.
But unfortunately, St. Elmo drew one of the No. 1 pitchers in the region Monday, as Indians ace Alec Braasch was brilliant in tossing a no-hitter against soon-to-be Olney Central College teammate and roommate Colton Booher.
The slender southpaw struck out nine and allowed just one baserunner - a sixth-inning walk to Zach Durbin - in leading the Indians (16-3) to their first regional title since 2002.
Booher was nearly as strong after the first inning, as he wound up striking out 10 and allowing just four hits in a complete-game effort.
But a three-run Altamont rally in the opening frame proved to be more than enough support for Braasch.
"It's what we didn't need to have happen," said Beccue of the slow start. "But it happened today."
Brad Kuhns led off the Indians' half of the first with a walk before going to second on an Adam Grobengieser single. A passed ball moved both runners into scoring position, and Justin Durbin capitalized with a two-run single.
Durbin then moved to second on another passed ball, and Brian Suckow followed with an RBI single that had Altamont up 3-0 before its No. 6 player came to the plate.
Booher allowed just one infield single and two walks the rest of the way, but the Eagles (10-8) were never able to recover from the rough opening frame.
"I don't know if it was a case of the nerves, but Colton just wasn't locked in yet," Beccue said. "When he did get locked in, you saw what happened. But we can't give up two or three runs to a kid like Braasch, because he was on all day long."
"We were real fortunate to get those runs early, because - I'll tell you what - Booher was lights out after that first inning," Altamont coach Tony Hann said.
Braasch was lights out all game long, however.
Using an above-average trio of pitches - including a fastball, changeup and knee-buckling 12-6 curveball - Braasch retired the first 17 hitters he faced.
St. Elmo's best opportunity for a base hit was literally snatched when centerfielder Justin Durbin came up with a diving grab on a liner hit by Adam Siebert in the sixth.
"I've got to give credit to him," Braasch said. "He's a good fielder. My defense is great. They always step up for me."
The Eagles broke up Braasch's bid for a perfect game just one batter later on a two-out Durbin walk. But Braasch bounced right back with a strikeout against Wade Nevergall.
The final sign that it was simply Braasch's day came in the seventh, when he struck out Booher for the third time.
"This is the first time I've struck him out at all," said Braasch. "Every time he was up, I just tried to throw a little harder to get him out."
Braasch capped his masterpiece by getting Trey Wright to ground out to third.
"If you were to pick Woody out of a lineup, you wouldn't guess he's the competitor he is," said Hann. "But that's why he's going to Olney and is one of the best pitchers in the league. He wants it all."
Booher wound up striking out 10 and allowing just one earned run in his final Eagles start.
"He definitely pitched good enough to win," Beccue said. "But Braasch is the real deal. You're not going to knock him around the ballpark very often. I give credit to him."
The loss snapped a six-game win streak that had turned the Eagles' spring around.
"We were finally on a roll, and now it's over," Beccue said. "It's kind of hard to believe."
Much like the fall season, they closed strong after a rough start, only to come up just one win shy of the program's first regional title for the second time in three years.
"We started slow in the fall and the spring," Beccue said. "But these kids don't give up; they're fighters. They figured it out and turned it around.
"We had our No. 1 going. We felt good about things. We didn't come over here just hoping to play with them. We thought we could actually win the ballgame."
St. Elmo 7, Patoka 2
Nevergall came through on the mound and at the plate, sending the Eagles to the championship game.
The senior picked up the victory, allowing two earned runs in 5 2/3 innings - striking out nine - in addition to going 3-for-5 with an RBI.
Booher added three hits and an RBI in three at-bats, closing out the victory with 1 1/3 innings of hitless relief. Booher struck out three and walked one.
The bottom of the St. Elmo's order put the Eagles up for good in the second, as David Cameron had an RBI double and Seibert singled in a run. Seibert finished 2-for-4 as part of a 13-hit St. Elmo attack. Durbin and Fletcher Morrison also had RBI hits for the Eagles.
Cody Wimberly had a solo homer to lead the Warriors (9-3).
St. Elmo 17, Ramsey 3
Dustin Blankenship's perfect day at the plate helped the St. Elmo senior righty remain perfect on the mound, as he went 4-for-4 with a double and an RBI in the Eagles' quarterfinal rout of the Rams.
Cameron also had a flawless day at the dish, going 3-for-3 with a double and four RBIs, helping Blankenship move to 3-0 on the spring, despite allowing three runs in two innings of work. Blankenship surrendered just one hit, however, and struck out five.
Booher chipped in three hits in four at-bats - including two doubles and an RBI -while Wright had three RBIs, finishing 2-for-3 with a double.
Austin Carlock went 1-for-3 to lead the Rams (3-14), who jumped out to a 3-0 first-inning lead, only to watch the Eagles plate five in the bottom of the frame and go on to score 17 unanswered runs.