After suffering a one-run loss to Mascoutah for their first defeat of the season in a game that easily could have turned out differently, the Highland baseball Bulldogs quickly turned the page and moved on to their next winning chapter.
Since that tough setback on April 13 at Glik Park, Highland has reeled off four straight wins prior to Wednesday’s scheduled home game against Jerseyville.
Just 24 hours after the loss, the Bulldogs traveled to Breese and outdueled the Knights in a slugfest, 10-6.
The next day on Wednesday of last week, Highland traveled to Bethalto Sports Complex and shot down the Eagles 10-1.
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Then last Friday, the Bulldogs hosted Class 4A power O’Fallon and nipped the Panthers with a 3-2 walk-off victory.
Finally on Monday, Highland traveled to Troy and carved up the Knights, 8-1.
The four-game winning streak hiked the Bulldogs’ overall record to a nearly spotless 13-1. The wins over CM and Triad improved HHS’ Mississippi Valley ledger to 2-1.
Highland 8, Triad 1
Senior ace Grant Geppert continued his mastery of opposing offenses and the Bulldogs’ offense pounded out 11 hits, including four doubles.
Geppert sliced up the Triad hitters, allowing just one unearned run, six scattered hits and one walk while striking out three. Geppert boosted his unblemished season record to 5-0 and lowered his microscopic ERA to 0.45 ERA in 31 innings of work.
Coversely, Highland beat up on Knight starter Dan Ratulowski for eight runs (four earned) in five innings.
The Bulldogs jumped on him for four runs in the first two frames and then rallied for four additional tallies in the fifth.
The Bulldogs received two hits apiece from seniors Cody Bentlage and Matt Augustin, as well as junior Andrew Winning.
Bentlage hammered out a pair of doubles and knocked in one run, while Augustin and Geppert each added one double.
Highland never surrendered the lead after scoring one run in the first inning as junior Will Greenwald singled and later scored on an ensuing error while stealing third base.
The Bulldogs increased their advantage to 4-0 with a three-run second, thanks in large part to the Knights’ porous defense.
Juniors Jordan Smith and Griffin Welz reached on back-to-back errors to lead off the at-bat, then they both later scored when fellow junior Seth Luitjohan reached on another Triad error.
After Greenwald bunted for a hit, Bentlage sliced a double the opposite way to right field to bring Luitjohan around to score HHS’ third run of the inning and fourth of the game.
After Triad got its only run in the bottom of the second with the help of a Highland error, the Bulldogs scored four more times in the fifth on a two-run single by Smith and RBI groundouts from Chris Dickman and Welz.
HHS senior lefthander Pete Baumgartner pitched a scoreless seventh, finishing with one walk and one strikeout.
Highland 3, O’Fallon 2
A lineout to center field by Bentlage to end the fifth inning ended up playing a big role in the outcome of the game. The No. 2 hitter in the Bulldogs’ batting order used the information he learned in that at-bat to pay huge dividends ui the outcome two innings later.
“I saw all of his pitches,” Bentlage said of O’Fallon righthander Kyle VanBevern, who was making his first start of the season. “And I sort of knew what to expect next time up.”
With Luitjohan in scoring position at second base representing the winning run after drawing a two-out walk and then stealing second, Bentlage came through and ripped a one-strike pitch just inside the third-base bag to bring Luitjohan around to score the walk-off run in a dramatic battle of nonconference area heavyweights.
“This is only going give us more confidence,” Bentlage said. “It makes us feel like we can beat almost anybody.”
“He’s a senior, he’s been around and he likes to be in that spot,” Highland coach Joel Hawkins said of Bentlage.
Luitjohan was sure Bentlage would deliver in the clutch.
“I’ve got a lot of confidence with him up there,” Luitjohan said. “He knows what’s going on.”
Bentlage and Winning both collected a game-high two hits apiece.
The Bulldogs typically depend on small-ball tactics to produce runs and Friday’s win was a true case in point. Highland has not hit a home run this season, but have pushed across 96 runs in 14 games.
“That’s just Highland baseball,” Luitjohan said. “That’s what we have to do to win.”
O’Fallon grabbed the game’s first lead with a two-run top of the fourth off Highland starter Tyler Kimmle.
Chris Holba knocked in VanBevern with a bloop hit to right. VanBevern started the rally with a single. Jacob Holl was hit by a pitch to set the stage for Holba’s run-producing hit. Pinch-runner Cody Crowder scored the second run to cap off a double steal.
Highland tied it up with a pair of tallies in the home half of the fourth.. Greenwald singled, stole second and ultimately came around to cross home plate on Bentlage‘s infield single. Andrew Winning followed with a double to chase Bentlage home with the equalizer..
Both defenses were sharp throughout the majority of the contest. The Bulldogs’ defense executed key double plays to cap off both the sixth and seventh frames.
Smith picked up the victory with 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Smith was summoned to relieve Kimmle in the sixth and immediately induced a double play to help the Bulldogs wriggle out of a jam.
Highland 10, Civic Memorial 1
Shutdown starting pitching and solid defense combined with a very giving Civic Memorial pitching staff and timely hits from the bottom of the order equaled a 10-1 MVC baseball rout for the visiting Bulldogs.
Highland did not need any more than six hits to make it a lopsided game, thanks in large part to four Eagle pitchers combining to hand out 13 free passes, with seven of the walks helping key a six-run fifth frame.
Luitjohan provided two hits and three RBIs, while Bentlage, Greenwald and Jim Smith each added one hit and two walks apiece. Bentlage also drove in a pair of runners.
In addition, Geppert walked three times and Dickman walked twice.
Geppert threw a shutout through the first six innings. He punched out seven. He danced out of the fire right off the bat and that seemed to point the momentum squarely in the Bulldogs’ direction the rest of the way.
The meat of the Eagles’ lineup was coming up after the first two hitters had reached on a hit by pitch and an error.
Geppert worked out of the jam and had mostly smooth sailing from there.
The Bulldogs carried that momentum over to their ensuing at-bat, scoring two times for the only runs they really needed.
Dickman smacked an RBI single to score Jimmie Smith, who began the spurt with a one-out single and advanced to second on a sacrifice from Welz. After Dickman stole second base, Luitjohan slapped an RBI single to allow Dickman to round third and head home.
Jordan Smith hit a sacrifice fly in the third to knock in Bentlage (walk) and up Highland’s lead to 3-0.
Seven walks helped Highland bust the game wide open in the fifth with a six-run eruption that made it an overwhelming 9-0 margin. Key hits in the frame were a two-run single from Luitjohan and another two-run single by Bentlage.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well,” Luitjohan said. “They put it right where I like it and I was able to hit it.”
In the next inning, Luitjohan made a glove gem. With one out and a runner on first, CM’s Conner Loewen smoked a hard ground ball headed for center field, but Luitjohan dove to stop the ball near the edge of the infield behind second base, flipped the ball with his glove to Bentlage to start an exceptional double play.
“If I didn’t get to the ball I would have been mad at myself,” Luitjohan said. “I’m not used to making plays like that, but I give every effort on any ball I think I can get to. I was a little afraid the ball might stick in my glove when I tossed it, but luckily it didn’t.”
Hawkins said his team played great defense and he was proud of his starting pitcher.
“Grant did a great job of getting out of first and third with no outs,” he said. “Overall, he did a good job. He likes to slip in a ball four every once in awhile to keep us coaches on our toes. And overall, it’s a good win for the team.”
Highland 10, Mater Dei 6 (9 innings)
In a see-saw battle in which seven innings of regulation was not enough to settle the dispute with Mater Dei on April 14, the Bulldogs got the final say with a four-run top of the ninth to finally clinch a 10-6 win over the host Knights.
Highland finished with 17 hits (three doubles), five walks and five stolen bases.
Both teams had at least five players collect multiple hits.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs was Dickman with three hits. He also supplied two RBIs and two runs scored.
Contributing two hits each for Highland were Bentlage, Luitjohan, Jimmie Smith, Welz and Greenwald.
Bentlage drove in a game-high three runs while Luitjohan and Geppert joined Dickman in knocking in a pair.
For Mater Dei, Will Rakers and Brady Rakers had three hits apiece, while Collin Schuetz, Lucas Deimeke and Zach Deiters each added two hits.
Both teams used four pitchers.
The Bulldogs staged the winning ninth-inning rally off Mater Dei reliever Nolan Seelhoefer, who was tagged with the loss after never recording an out and allowing all four runs. It was Highland’s infamous small-ball tactics that helped lead to Seelhoefer’s undoing.
He walked four in the frame, three to load the bases with only one out. Back-to-back bunts by Welz and Dickman both helped score a run, with Welz’s sacrifice scoring Geppert (leadoff walk) and Dickman’s bunt plating Augustin (walk).
Luitjohan followed by hitting a sacrifice fly to allow Jim Smith (intentionally walked) to tag and score to make it a 9-6 Highland lead.
After Greenwald was issued a free pass to again fill the sacks, Bentlage singled to chase home Welz to cap off the rally and complete the game’s scoring.
Welz then came on to pitch in the bottom half. He allowed a one-out single to Josh Haberer and a two-out single to Brady Rakers, but worked around both by striking out Will Rakers swinging to end the game and preserve the four-run win.
The ninth-inning rally made a fortuitous winner out of Jordan Smith, who had a 6-4 lead, but surrendered two runs (one earned) in the home half of the eighth. Overall, he gave up the two runs on four hits and one walk in 2 2/3 innings. He struck out one.
After two scoreless innings to open the game, Highland struck first to score two runs with two outs on an RBI single by Bentlage to right and a run-scoring single by Geppert later to bring Bentlage home.
In the ensuing half inning, the Knights chopped HHS’ lead in half on Deimeke’s RBI base hit.
After Mater Dei converted a triple play in the top of the fourth, the Knights’ offense rallied for a two-run bottom half off Highland junior starter Matt Beyer to grab a 3-2 lead on an RBI double from Schuetz and a run-scoring single from Brady Rakers.
Mater Dei tacked on a single tally in the fifth to increased its advantage to two runs.
Then it was the Bulldogs’ turn to rally.
Highland tied the game with a two-run top of the seventh. Luitjohan led off with a single and went to third on Greenwald’s ringing double to right. Luitjohan then scored on Bentlage’s ground out to second and Greenwald tagged and trotted home on Geppert’s sacrifice fly.
The game then went to extra innings, where Highland grabbed its 6-4 lead in the top of the eighth on Dickman’s single to right to plate Jordan Smith (single). After Dickman stole second base, Luitjohan singled to left to drive home Dickman.
However, Smith and his defense, which commited an error, could not hold the two-run lead as Mater Dei rallied for the final time, setting the stage for the Bulldogs’ huge ninth-inning rally.