TROY — After waiting out a 2-hour, 34-minute rain delay Saturday afternoon, anxiety was high in the Triad Knights' dugout.
The second-seeded Knights remedied the situation with a three-run top of the first inning against Highland senior ace Jake Haberer that propelled them to 6-2 victory over the top-seeded Bulldogs in the championship game of the Class 3A Triad Regional.
"We had that 2 1/2-hour rain delay," said Triad senior Keaton Wright, who blasted a two-run homer in the fifth. "We were nervous throughout the whole entire thing, waiting for the game to start.
"We jumped out to the early lead. I think that's when we started to settle down and say, 'Now it's a ballgame. We've got to start playing like we have been. Here we go.'"
Senior Tyler Carpenter's two-run single in the first, Wright's home run in the fifth and senior Lucas Infanti's run-scoring double, also in the fifth, were the key blows for the Knights (24-11), who will play Mississippi Valley Conference foe Mascoutah (22-14) in the semifinals of the Effingham Sectional at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
Mascoutah, which split two games with Triad during the regular season, defeated Waterloo 3-1 on Saturday to win the Columbia Regional. Highland finished 25-9.
"We played poorly and they played well. That's pretty much it," Highland coach Joel Hawkins said. "From the first inning right through the seventh inning, we didn't do anything right. Their kid (senior Jordan Felax) had one pitch, and we couldn't hit it.
"The kids have been playing well offensively, and today we did not. He threw enough strikes to keep us from scoring runs. That's all there was to it."
Felax (9-3) allowed one run on four hits in 5 2/3 innings. He walked four and struck out five before being relieved by senior Jakob Thomas, who worked out of a bases-loaded, two-out jam in the sixth by firing a called third strike past senior Tyler Zappia.
Sophomore Dalton Johnson relieved Thomas in the seventh with Highland runners at first and second and one out.
Johnson allowed senior Mitch Carriger's bunt single that loaded the bases, then hit senior Joel Mason with a pitch to force in a run that made it 6-2. Johnson collected himself by retiring Haberer and junior Joseph Duncan.
"They knew it wasn't over until it's over," said Triad coach Jesse Bugger, whose team rallied from a 6-1 deficit to beat Highland 7-6 in the title game of the Highland Regional last season. "(Duncan) could have easily hit the ball out of here.
"When we play each other, it always lasts until the end. It never feels like there's any time to relax. We're well aware of past games when the score gets turned around."
Haberer (6-1) fueled Triad's first inning by walking the first two batters, senior Lucas Criley and Johnson. Haberer lasted 4 2/3 innings, allowing six runs (four earned) on six hits, with four walks and five strikeouts.
Haberer struggled with command in the first --he also threw a wild pitch --and the three runs allowed proved more than the Bulldogs could overcome.
"I know he was excited to be out there and competing," Hawkins said. "Obviously, he struggled through the first couple of hitters. That made it uphill the rest of the way."
Highland battled back in its first as Carriger singled and took second when he escaped a rundown. Mason reached on a bunt single and Haberer followed with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1.
Mason went to third on the fly ball, but was out on an appeal play when the base umpire ruled Mason left second before center fielder Criley made the catch.
Johnson reached on an error to start the fifth. Wright followed with his two-run homer to center that made it 5-1. It was Wright's second homer this season against Haberer.
"It was a line drive," Wright said. "I didn't exactly think it was gone when I hit it, but I saw (Carriger) run out of room and I thought, 'It might have a chance.' I looked up and it went over. I hit it hard. Good things happen when you hit the ball hard."
Contact reporter David Wilhelm at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2665.