The Highland High School baseball team stayed on a hot streak after posting victories over Belleville East (4-2), Effingham (15-12), Centralia (11-0) and Murphysboro (12-5) last week.
The Bulldogs (22-9-1) ran their winning streak to five and have won eight of their past nine overall prior to Monday’s game at Mount Vernon to end the regular season.
Highland enters the postseason this week. To open the playoffs, Highland is scheduled to take on Freeburg at 4 p.m. Thursday in the semifinals of the IHSA Class 3A Triad Regional.
Highland 12 Murphysboro 5
On Friday, the Bulldogs were very patient at the plate en route to drawing an outlandish 12 walks. Highland also put the dozen bases on balls together with 10 hits to score in all but one inning and rout the host Red Devils.
Highland scored two runs in each of the first two innings, then followed that up by tacking on a single tally in the each of fourth and fifth frames, before closing it out by producing three runs in each of its final two at-bats.
Sophomore shortstop Jacob Willis spearheaded the Bulldogs’ 10-hit attack after going 3-for-4 with a double and two runs scored.
Chipping in one hit each were junior Jonathan Dickman, senior Steven Diaz, junior Brock Troxelll, junior Colten Knebel, junior Jake Ramsey, junior Michael Riffel and junior Garrett Marti.
Dickman also supplied two walks, two RBIs and two runs scored and Ramsey and Riffel each knocked in one run.
In addition, junior Dylan Knebel and junior Connor Pinsker each drove in a pair of runs without the benefit of a hit and junior Elliott Prott drew a game-high three walks while junior Evan Herman joined Dickman with two walks.
Dustin Phelps (2-0) earned the win after working the first 6 1/3 innings and allowing just one earned run (four overall) on nine hits and one walk while striking out six. Dickman recorded the final two outs and gave up one unearned run on one hit with one strikeout.
Highland 11 Centralia 0
Junior left-hander Connor Pinsker tossed a perfect game to accomplish the rarest and most lauded feats in the history of pitching as not one single batter reached base against him. Pinsker retired all 18 batters — four via strikeout — in a game that was called after six innings due to the 10-run mercy rule in Illinois.
The crafty lefty has been on a tear to help the team play its best baseball of the season down the stretch of the regular season. Pinsker improved to 5-3 and lowered his ERA to 1.35 in a team-high 62 innings of work this spring.
The Bulldogs banged out 12 hits, four for extra bases, and were beasts on the bases with 11 stolen bases to produce three runs in each of the first two innings, followed by one run in each of the fourth and fifth frames, and finished with a three-spot in the sixth.
Five different Highland players enjoyed multiple-hit games. Marti, Troxell, Dylan Knebel, Willis and Pinsker all collected two hits apiece.
Both of Marti’s hit were home runs while he also drove in a game-high three runs and scored a game-best three runs. Marti leads the team with four homers and 27 RBIs. He homered to left to lead off the game and then launched a two-run bomb in the sixth.
Troxell also knocked in a trio of runs while he also swiped three bags and scored once. He smacked a two-run single to right in the second and added a run-scoring single in the fourth.
Dylan Knebel, who along with Pinsker went a perfect 2-for-2, also doubled and drove home two runs. He had a RBI sacrifice fly in the first and smote a RBI double to left in the fifth.
Willis, Pinsker and senior Braden Rehkemper each added one RBI and Willis also tripled and scored twice.
Highland 15 Effingham 12
On Tuesday, May 16 at Glik Park, the Bulldogs trailed 12-11 heading into their final at-bat. To lead off the inning, Colten Knebel was hit by a pitch and Garrett Marti coaxed a walk. After an out, Connor Pinsker laced a single to center to score Knebel and tie the game at 12-12.
Jacob Willis then stepped up to assume the hero’s role and made his first home run of the season a memorable one. On the very next pitch after Pinsker knotted the game, Willis crushed the delivery over the fence in center field for a game-winning, walk-off three run home run.
Willis, who also had one walk and scored twice, was one of five Bulldogs who had multiple hits in the game and he leads HHS with a hefty .394 batting average.
Prott also played a starring role in the team triumph. At the dish, he banged out the most hits after going a perfect 3-for-3 with his first home run of the season and a game-best four runs batted in. He also added one walk and joined Marti, Willis and Dylan Knebel with at least two runs scored.
Prott drilled a three-run homer to left to cap off a five-run fourth and reclaim the lead for Highland at 12-11. He also slapped a run-scoring single to center to plate Willis (single) as part of the Bulldogs’ six-run second.
Prott (2-0) was also the winning pitcher as he moved from third base to the bump with one out in the sixth inning. He blanked the Flaming Hearts for the final 1 2/3 innings on two hits while recording three of the five outs via strikeout. Prott lowered his team-best ERA to 0.66.
Highland, which outhit Effingham 14-12 and drew six walks, had three huge innings after piling on six runs in the second, five more in the fourth before capping off the wild slugfest with the walk-off four-run seventh.
Also contributing two hits apiece for Highland were Marti, Pinsker and Dylan Knebel. Marti doubled, scored a game-high three runs and drove in two runs, while Pinsker knocked in a pair and scored once, and Dylan Knebel also walked once, scored twice and had one RBI.
In addition, Brock Troxell added one hit, one walk, one RBI and one run scored.
Effingham (21-4) also had productive at-bats. The Flaming Hearts had a three-run second and a five-run third, all off starter Steven Diaz, before later scoring three times off the combination of relievers Jake Ramsey and Robert Sigman.
For the Flaming Hearts, Lane Koenig, Parker Seachrist, Ryan Sandifer and Brett Koester each had two hits apiece.
Additionally, Utz had a two-run triple to key Effingham’s three-run third while Brent Beals and Koening hit back-to-back home runs in the five-run third, with Beals hitting a two-run shot.
Highland 4 Belleville East 2
The Bulldogs struck first in the first, as Marti singled, stole second and scored on Troxell’s bunt that was misplayed for an error.
Highland tacked on another single tally in the third and put up a pair of runs in the fourth to build a 4-0 advantage.
Jonathan Dickman reached on an error to lead off the third. He later scored on a passed ball to make it 2-0.
In the fourth, Dylan Knebel led off with a single to left. Two batters later, Prott belted a double to left to chase Knebel home for a three-run advantage. Prott later stole home on a play which Dickman stayed alive long enough before he ultimately was tagged out on the play.
Payne Waldman was the winning pitcher for Highland, allowing just one unearned run, four hits and one walk in six innings of work to improve his team-best record to 5-1 and drop his ERA to 0.99. Waldman struck out two.
“Getting on top early in the game felt really good and gave me a boost of confidence going into those next leading innings,” said Waldman. “Having a defense to back me up is incredible.”
Belleville East managed to outhit Highland seven to three, but the three errors early on by the Lancers was the difference maker.
Gage Cruz took the loss while Jaden Webb went 2-for-3 with a double and Kyle Rensing finished 2-for-3 on the afternoon to lead the Lancers’ offense.
The Lancers went into the bottom of the seventh inning trailing 4-1. Rensing scored and the Lancers set themselves up to make a late game surge but stranded they tying runners on second and third base.
“We didn’t want it to be that exciting there at the end, but on the other side they like making plays and they’re a good team,” said Bulldogs head coach Joel Hawkins. “Every time we play a Southwestern Conference team you know you’re going up against a real solid outfit and this game was no different.”