CARLYLE — Members of a state championship squad two years ago as sophomores, Highland's Joe Bardill and Shane Campbell needed a major comeback on the final day of the state bass fishing tournament to avoid a disappointing conclusion to their high school careers.
Bardill, Campbell and Blake Schumacher pulled it off as Highland boat No. 1 climbed from 14th to third place by reeling in five bass weighing 13 pounds, 4 ounces on Saturday at Carlyle Lake.
"It was a great comeback, I tell you,'' Highland coach Jon Rinderer said. "I told the boys, 'If you fish hard and those other teams falter a little, we can win this thing.'
"They don't let up. These boys can really fish. I knew they could do it. They are just go-getters.''
The Bulldogs took home the third-place trophy with a two-day total of 21 pounds, 9 ounces.
"It was definitely a different kind of fishing from years before,'' Bardill said. "This cold winter really messed them up. Everything is spawning at the same time.''
The Bulldogs struggled Friday, catching five bass that weighed only 8 pounds, 5 ounces.
"We couldn't find a big bite yesterday at all,'' Rinderer said. "We caught 12-15 keepers, but we just couldn't get a fish over 2 1/2 pounds. We didn't miss any fish. We fished well, and the spot we were in holds big fish. We just couldn't get on them. Today, we changed our tactics.
"Yesterday, we sat on a couple of spots for over half the day, and today we decided to run-and-gun to spots that we knew held big fish. Fortunately, two or three of the spots paid off.''
At first, things weren't going any better Saturday for the Bulldogs.
"We started off in our start-off spot and we didn't catch a fish in that whole cove,'' Campbell said. "Then we went down to our second spot and Joey hooked up on a big one.''
"That gave us the motivation,'' Bardill said.
Highland boat No. 2, which was in fourth place after the first day, ended up in seventh after catching four bass that weighed 8 pounds, 5 ounces for a two-day total of 19 pounds, 4 ounces.
"I told them, 'If you had the bag we had today, you'd win, and vice versa,''' Rinderer said. "But, that's not the way it works.''
Highland boat No. 2 was coached by Scott Sautman. Team members were Eric Luitjohan, Austin Niggli and Michael Frank.
Moline won the state title with a two-day total of 26 pounds, 8 ounces. Pinckneyville was second with 23 pounds, 14 ounces.
The Panthers were in first until Moline weighed in with the next-to-last boat off the lake.
"I'll give you my best Ricky Bobby quote, 'There is no shame in silver,''' said Pinckneyville coach Dennis Heape, whose team of Jacob Louis and Cale Jausel caught five bass for a second-day leading 13 pounds, 9 ounces. "That's one of those deals where if somebody tells you, 'How would you like second place,' before it all started, you'd be like, 'Oh gosh, that would be great.' It's a little bit heartbreaking when you have a big lead.''
Heape made a point to thank the Farmington Farmers for their show of sportsmanship.
The Farmers, who were out of the hunt for the state title, cleared out of the area after they saw the Panthers land on a hot spot for bass.
"We just happened to get in an area that had a lot of fish and they saw us catching them,'' Heape said. "They said, 'You guys had a good bag yesterday, right?' I said, 'Yeah, we were seventh.' They said, 'Let us get out of your way.' A huge, huge show of sportsmanship.''
The Farmers ended up in 40th place. Belleville West was 44th and Waterloo was 47th.
The Maroons' Benji McBride caught one bass that weighed 2 pounds, 16 ounces to keep his team from being shutout Saturday.
There were 21 teams, including the Granite City Warriors, who came away empty-handed Saturday.
"That was us until about 20 minutes until the end of the day, and we hooked him,'' McBride said. "I broke two rods and lost my hat, so that made it a better weekend.''
Jeff Feilner reeled in a bass that weighed 3 pounds, 3 ounces on Saturday morning for the Waterloo's lone catch of the tourney.
"It was right at 9 o'clock, right off shore,'' Feilner said. "It popped out right off shore, and I thought it was a catfish at first because I saw a white belly. I was like, 'Argh.' Thank God, it was a bass.''
The Elverago Falcons had some fun at the weigh-in, bringing up a catfish that tipped the scales at 17 pounds, 13 ounces.
The big bass for the tourney belonged to Robinson's Connor Griffin, who reeled in a 7-pound, 4-ouncer on Friday.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2522.