In a classic pitcher’s duel between two unbeaten teams, the visiting Belleville Post 58 Hilgards pushed across two runs in the top of the seventh inning to score a 2-0 victory and pin Highland Post 439 with its first loss of the season in its District 22 opener.
Highland slipped to 2-1 while Belleville remained undefeated at 5-0.
This weekend, Highland travels a short commute to compete in the Greenville College Invitational, where Post 439 is guaranteed three games. In its pool, Highland will take Shelby County first at 11 a.m. Friday before returning later on in the day to face Danville at 3:30 p.m. Then to wrap up pool play on Saturday, Post 439 will meet Oneida at 10 a.m.
Against Belleville on Tuesday, Post 58 lefty Jack Lanxon won the duel on the bump. He stymied Post 439 for six innings, surrendering just three hits and two walks while punching out seven. A Truman State University recruit as a strong safety in football, Lanxon’s fastball had plenty of zip and he spotted it well. He made Highland’s at-bats that much more difficult the second time through the order when he mixed in a big breaking curveball the second time through the order.
Shortstop Dillon Hallemann collected two of Highland’s three total hits while first baseman Jordan Smith accounted for the team’s only other hit.
“We just struggled to score, there were two good pitchers tonight,” Highland coach Harry Painter said. “Their lefty was pretty good. We struggled with his fastball, and you notice he didn’t bring his big curve (ball) out to the second round, which was smart for him to do. And it affected us, but hey you know what, the hitting is going to catch up with the pitching, we know that. Pitching is always ahead of us at the beginning of the year and we always face good pitching. But our pitching was good...I am not disappointed at all because we can play with this team, and it’s early in the season and we’ll be fine.”
Hard-throwing right-hander Cole Hensel relieved Lanxon in the seventh and made short of work of Highland on a ground out to second base followed by back-to-back strikeouts to earn the save. It was Hensel’s first outing since having Tommy John surgery a year ago. Of Hensel’s 14 pitches, 10 were strikes.
Post 439 starter Elliott Prott was by no means a slouch. He shut Belleville out after battling through five hits and four walks before forcing the Hilgards to strand 10 runners on base his five innings of work.
“Elliott pitched an outstanding game, battling through five innings and allowing no runs,” Painter said. “He got out of three out of five innings with a runner in scoring position and forced them to strand a lot of runners, so he did an excellent job with all of that stuff and that was huge.”
Robert Sigman relieved Prott in the sixth and worked around an error for a scoreless frame. But he would end up being charged with the team’s first loss in the seventh.
Lanxon led off by lacing a single to right field. He stole both second and third base before Alford walked and swiped second base. Sigman then recorded a strikeout for the first out. Highland could have had Lanxon on a failed squeeze but he was able to retreat back to third safely. Then with the infield drawn in, Lanxon was off with the ensuing contact of a ground ball off the bat of Logan Betz. It may have been a bang-bang play at home plate but Highland second baseman Greene booted the ball and both runners were able to come home to score for the game’s only runs.
“Robert came in and he pitched well too,” Painter said. “If it weren’t for a couple of little miscues there that weren’t really errors, Robert could have been out of that for sure. If we could have gotten (Lanxon) in that rundown, then there’s nobody on third and I have my infield back. Then Sam probably makes that play and then we pick the guy off of first, so there’s three outs and no runs. But hey, that’s baseball.”