HIGHLAND — Triad High School third baseman Dalton Johnson always knew he had the ability to hit home runs. On Monday, Johnson proved it.
Johnson hit two long home runs and Tyler Carpenter gave Triad the lead for good with a two-run double in the sixth inning as the Knights remained in the hunt for the Mississippi Valley Conference crown with a wild 10-9 win over the Bulldogs.
Johnson, who hit a two-run home run in the fifth inning, tied the game at 8 with three-run clout in the sixth off Highland reliever Zach Stieb. The Knights' Keaton Wright and Cody Massey followed with singles and Carpenter followed with his two-run double to give Triad a 10-8 lead.
Highland cut it deficit to 10-9 in the seventh inning but Knights reliever Jakob Thomas got out of a bases loaded situation to end the game.
The win lifts Triad to 15-7 overall and 5-2 in the MVC, just one game behind Highland (18-5, 6-1) with just three weeks remaining in the regular season. And while Carpenter's two-run double proved to be the difference it was the bat of Johnson which gave the Knights a chance.
"It's been in my blood but this year I haven't been feeling it much. I've been hitting more gaps,'' Johnson said of his sudden burst of power. "I've been waiting for it though. The first one was great.
"But the second one was like the greatest feeling ever. I was just so excited."
While the MVC showdown wasn't decided until the final pitch, it won't be remembered as one that was well played.
The Highland defense allowed four unearned runs while Triad pitchers allowed 12 walks and saw Highland swipe 10 bases.
In two meetings this season with its Madison County rival, Highland has stolen 18 bases,
But in the end, Triad had just a little more offense.
"It wasn't a pretty game. But our boys had a lot of fight in them and kept taking good at-bats. Eventually it was enough," Knights coach Jesse Bugger said. "We're still alive (in the MVC). We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times the first week but we've battled back and given ourselves a shot.
"It's about getting ready for the postseason and we've still got 13 games left to make some adjustments.
Highland, which defeated Triad 8-5 earlier this month, wasted little time in jumping on Knights ace Jordan Felax.
Mitch Carriger walked to lead off the first inning, stole the first of his four bases on the night, and scored on a single by Joel Mason to give Highland a short-lived lead.
But taking advantage of a Bulldogs error, Triad came right back with three runs in the second as Tyler Derleth had a two-run double.
The error was the first of three on the night for Highland.
"It's as bad as you can play and it will keep the coach up for a while. I guarantee you that,'' Highland coach Joel Hawkins said. "As a coach you blame yourself for an effort like this one.
"We didn't make any plays. I think a lot of runs we put on the board came on ball four and what it comes down to is that we didn't play very well and they (Triad) did. You tip your cap to them.''
After a two-run single by Jake Haberer and a sacrifice fly by Tyler Zappia gave Highland a 4-3 lead in the third inning, Johnson provided his first home run of the night -- a two-run clout -- while cleared the fence in left centerfield.
Bugger said he had a feeling Johnson would have a big night after talking to his assistant coaches.
"Before the game a couple of my assistants came up and said they thought Dalton would have a big night because of the way he was swinging the bat in batting practice,'' Bugger said. "He's a pretty talented kid. And he's got a long time to keep improving.''
Highland sent 10 batters to the plate in the fifth inning, scoring four times, as it took an 8-5 lead before Johnson's second home run of the night and Carpenter's two-run double in the sixth proved to be the difference.