ALTON - The first varsity baseball game at Alton High this season ended in thrilling fashion on Monday evening. What was a low-scoring affair with little solid hitting ended with the biggest hit of all, a walk-off three-run homer by Alton’s Jayden Diaz that gave the Redbirds a 5-2 victory at home.

“He’s our team leader for a reason.” Alton head coach Scott Harper said postgame. “He’s a guy that, when in a big spot, we hope he comes up like that. We want that throughout the whole season in big moments, because he’s going to come through most of the time. It was nice for him to get that finishing touch for us today.”

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Diaz wouldn’t have been put into a situation to win the game for Alton had it not been for the pitching performance of the Redbirds at home on Monday. Reid Murray started the game and pitched three innings and allowed a Jerseyville run on a Zach Weiner line drive RBI single.

Alton’s Scott Bartow came into the game in the fourth inning and had some location issues, but only allowed one run off a Pete Barten single that drove in Easton Heafner for Jerseyville in the top of the fourth. At the time, the visiting Panthers were up 2-0.

The Redbirds put their first tally on the board in the bottom of that fourth inning without a swing of the bat. A wild pitch from Jerseyville starter Zach Weiner escaped the reach of Panther catcher and trickled behind home plate just far enough for Alton pinch-runner Will Frasier to score from third to make it a 2-1 game. Scott Bartow’s strongest inning was the sixth, Bartow forced two grounders to start the inning, but both ended in fielding errors to put two runners on base instead of having two outs on the board.

Jerseyville’s Pete Barten laid down a sacrifice bunt, and no Alton Redbirds covered first base, which loaded the bases with no outs in the inning. Bartow forced two Panther groundouts, and a popup from Drake Goetten, to escape the sixth without giving up a run. At that moment, the Redbirds had seized momentum of the ballgame.

“Huge momentum from that inning,” said Scott Harper postgame. “They got us the inning before, we had a chance to score with runners on and they kept us from scoring. So anytime you get a big situation like that, bases loaded, especially with nobody out, when you’re able to get out of that without giving up any runs, it’s a huge momentum shift.”

The momentum shift could be felt at the varsity field at Alton High, and sure enough, Alton would tie the game up in the sixth inning. Logan Bogard ripped a double to right center, driving in Jayden Diaz to tie the game. The Alton dugout was full of energy, an energy that had been sapped out of the Jerseyville dugout a half-inning prior.

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The Panthers came up in the top of the seventh, but couldn’t create anything offensively. A grounder and two strikeouts stranded Zach Weiner on base after he was plunked by a fastball from Alton reliever Quillan Taylor.

After a Reid Murray single and Deon Harrington drew a walk from Jerseyville reliever Jake Wagner, the Redbirds had two runners on with no outs in the bottom of the seventh. Clay East, Jersey’s 6’4 pitcher/infielder, came in to try to get the Panthers out of the inning.

A sac bunt and a strikeout brought Alton’s Jayden Diaz to the plate with two outs and two on in the seventh and final inning. Diaz launched a 2-1 fastball well over the 355 foot sign on the right field wall, and walked it off for the Redbirds in their first game at Alton high this season.

Following the loss to Marquette at Lloyd Hopkins Field at Gordon Moore Park, the Redbirds are 1-1 on the young season. It’s a quick turnaround for Scott Harper’s team as they travel to Granite City Tuesday afternoon..

“We’ve gotta throw strikes and be a little more competitive with the sticks.” said Jerseyville head coach Darren Perdun following his team’s loss. “I think part of it was good pitching, but a lot of it was our impatience at the plate. We weren’t getting good pitches to hit to get guys on base, and instead of relaxing, we tightened up a bit. Again, that’s something that’s probably a credit to their pitchers, they kept us off balance.

“I look at one stat that stands out to me,” Perdun continued. “We walk nine guys. That’s way too many. Our pitchers have to be able to compete a little better. We also left way too many guys on base ourselves, hitting-wise. Tip of the cap to (Jayden Diaz) who gets a 2-1 fastball and turns on it like you’re supposed to, great job by him hitting a walk-off there, but we have to compete better than that.”

Jerseyville falls to 0-2 in the first week of the season as they look to improve their efforts both on the mound and at the plate. The Panthers are also in action Tuesday, hosting Southwestern at Ken Schell Field at 4:30.

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