The Highland Middle School baseball team clinched the school’s first ever Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association Class L state baseball championship with a 6-1 victory over O’Fallon Carriel Thursday, Oct. 5 at Rotary Park in Centralia.
The victory was the 10th in a row for the Bullpups, who finished the season with a 10-game winning streak and an impressive 19-5 record.
For Highland, it was a season of streaks. After losing their second game of the season, the Bullpups reeled off eight straight wins. The Bullpups then suffered through a four-game losing skid before righting the ship and never tasting defeat again in their last 10 contests, culminating in in HMS’ first baseball championship in school history.
“This team would just not go away, they were determined to complete something and they had that ‘it’ factor,” said Highland coach Sam Weber. “Every team you coach you enjoy the kids. These kid had intangibles. They were a very motivated group and were always ready to go. When you have a championship team, there has to be a selfless attitude and this team definitely was a collective unit. Everybody contributed to this.
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“The kids wanted to represent this school and this community in the best possible way and I think they did that very well.”
Weber just finished his 13th year at the helm of the HMS program while he also doubles as the pitching coach for the two-time state champion Highland High School baseball team. This year was the fifth time one of his teams won a regional championship and advanced to the SIJHSAA Class L quarterfinals. HMS’ previous best finish was third place in the fall of 2008.
At the end of practice the day before the championship game, coach Weber had the team do something a little different as he had them practice a championship celebration after getting the final out on a ball Weber hit to shortstop. It turned out the final out the next day was not too different as the final out came on a ground ball to third base.
“It is not everyday you get to celebrate and I wanted them to get to experience that kind of celebration for all of their hard work and dedication all season,” Weber said. “I was very proud of them, win or lose.”
The Bullpups definitely faced some adversity along the way and that was no more evident that in the semifinal game on Tuesday, Oct. 3 when HMS fell behind 5-0 after two innings to a 23-0 Marion squad.
But Highland chipped away at the lead, scoring three runs in the third inning, two in each of the fourth and fifth frames, before exploding for an eight-spot in the sixth to rally for a 16-7 come-from-behind victory and hand Marion both its first and last defeat of the season.
To make it to the SIJHSAA Class L’s Final Four, Highland edged Salem 2-0 in the quarterfinal on Saturday, Sept. 30.
HMS was dominant en route to winning the Carlyle Regional. First, Highland trounced Wesclin 15-3 in the semifinal on Tuesday, Sept. 19. Then in the regional championship game on Thursday, Sept. 21, the Bullpups, defeated Centralia 7-3 to punch their ticket to the quarterfinals.
The HMS Bullpups, who were coached by Weber, Connor Kurrle and Bobby Reidelberger, consisted of: Toby Allen, pitcher/utility player; J.T. Brissenden, catcher/utility player; Luke Darling, third baseman; Aiden Duft, shortstop; Tyler Griesbaum, left fielder; Greyson Habing, outfielder/pitcher; Tyler Herman, second baseman/pitcher; Blayne Kapp, catcher/infielder; Brady Knackstedt, pitcher/outfielder; Bryce Knackstedt, pitcher/outfielder; Mason Marcus, catcher/first baseman; Matt Miscik, first baseman/pitcher; Chase Noeltner, left fielder; Logan Oestringer, infielder/pitcher; Blaise Pearson, right fielder/shortstop/pitcher; Luke Stieb, first baseman/pitcher; and Zach Wilken, center fielder/pitcher.