The Highland American Legion Post 439 Junior No. 1 baseball team finished 4-2 and took second place behind district tourney champion Fairview Heights to advance from the District 22 Playoff Tournament to the Fifth Division Tournament.
The Highland Juniors were not going to let the opportunity of qualifying for the American Junior Legion State Tournament go to waste as Post 439 was one of four teams from the nine-team Fifth Division Tournament in Salem to punch their ticket to Quincy, which is where the eight-team Junior state tourney is being held this year.
It is the second year in a row a Highland Junior Legion team has qualified for the American Junior Legion State Tournament.
The Post 439 Junior No. 1 baseball team, which is coached by Rick Diaz and enters Thursday morning’s state tourney opener against host Quincy with an 18-11 record, includes Brett Brown, Trent Carriger, Steven Diaz, Ben Geppert, Montana Gilbert, Dillon Hallemann, Austin Hickam, Luke Jones, Jack Landmann, David Lutostanski, Mike McGill, Jake Ramsey, Braden Rehkemper and JD Wellen.
Highland 6, Carlyle 4
To secure its berth for this week’s state tournament, Highland overcame a 4-2 deficit by scoring two runs in the seventh to send the game into extras, where Post 439 pushed across two more runs in the eighth to stun Carlyle with a clutch come-from-behind victory on Saturday in Salem.
The Highland Bulldogs pulled out the win thanks to a strong eighth inning. With the bases loaded, a Carlyle error on Gilbert’s ground ball to third base scored Wellen for the game’s final lead change.
Two batters later, Hallemann, who went a perfect 3-for-3 in the game, hit a single to drive in Steven Diaz with a key insurance tally.
Then after walking the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the eighth inning, Diaz retired the final three batters in order, including recording a dramatic strikeout to end the game and clinch Highland’s spot in the state tourney. He threw a shutout over the final two innings to help hold Carlyle down.
But the game-winning rally would not have been possible if Carriger had not tied the game an inning earlier in the top of the seventh. After Diaz and McGill led off with walks and Gilbert laid down a successful sacrifice bunt, Carriger hammered a double to center to chase both Diaz and McGill home to pull Post 439 even.
Highland grabbed the game’s first lead with a single run in the top of the third on a RBI double from Jones to plate Ramsey (leadoff walk).
After Carlyle tied the game in the home half, Post 439 got its one-run lead back in the fifth on a Hallemann’s RBI double to left to knock in Gilbert (walk).
Carlyle came back to tie the game with a run in the bottom half and then surged to the front with a two-run sixth, setting the stage for Highland’s late-game comeback.
Post 439 finished with 10 hits and 10 walks.
Hallemann worked the first six frames for Highland, allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out six.
Highland 10, Goreville 4
Post 439 put up a two-spot in the top of the second to snatch an early lead, only to watch Goreville storm back with a four-run bottom of the third. But Highland was more than up to the challenge, rallying for three runs in each of the fourth and sixth innings and one run in each of the fifth and seventh frames to cruise to the six-run come-from-behind romp.
Highland received an impressive two-way performance from McGill as he came up huge at the dish and on the bump.
McGill and Diaz paced Post 439’s 13-hit attack with three hits apiece, including each slugging one triple and one double. Diaz also knocked in a pair of runs and scored once while McGill crossed home plate twice.
McGill also came up big on the bump, where he fired two perfect innings highlighted by five punchouts.
Lutostanski, Gilbert and Wellen all rapped out two hits each.
Carriger, Diaz and McGill, Lutostanski ended up combining for nine hits and six RBIs.
Of the baker’s dozen number of hits for Highland, more than half (seven) were of the extra-base variety.
Post 439 scored three runs in the sixth on a two-run triple by Lutostanski and an RBI single by Wellen.
The game was back-and-forth heading into the fourth.
Highland used a strong three-run fourth inning to take the lead for good. Key in the at-bat were back-to-back triples from Diaz and McGill (RBI), an RBI ground out from Carriger and a run-scoring double from Gilbert (walk).
Gilbert joined McGill with a big two-way performance as he also got it done on the mound on the way to a win. In five innings, Gilbert surrendered four runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out one.
Highland scratched across one run in the fifth inning, and matched that run total in the seventh. In the fifth, Post 439 scored on an RBI double by Mike McGill, to bring home Diaz (single). In the seventh, Highland got it final tally on an RBI double from Carriger to score Hallemann (hit by pitch).
Newton 6, Highland 2
Ramsey was charged with the loss for Highland after give up five runs (three earned) on six walks and four hits in four frames. He did strike out seven.
In his two innings of work, McGill conceded just one unearned run on two hits. He walked none and fanned two
Newton rallied for five runs in the fourth, with the help of a two-run error by Highland.
A two-run sixth inning helped bring Post 439 within four. Diaz singled and later scored on a passed ball and McGill hit a run-scoring ground out to knock in Gilbert (hit by pitch).
Highland (Post 439) 3, Alton 2
Post 439 used a key two-run fourth inning to erase a 2-1 deficit and rally for the triumph and clinch second place in the District 22 tourney.
Highland outhit Alton 10-2 in the game and got the equalizing run from Carriger, who led off with a single and later scored on a wild pitch. The winning run scored on Lutostanski’s RBI fielder’s choice to plate McGill (single).
McGill finished the game going a perfect 3-for-3. He also singled in the second and sixth innings.
Hallemann looked sharp on the rubber, holding Alton scoreless and hitless over four innings. He walked two and struck out six.
Gilbert earned the win for Highland, allowing two runs, two hits and two walks over three innings with one strikeout.
Post 439 jumped out to an early 1-0 lead in the top of the second. McGill started the rally with a single, moved around to third base on an error and came home to score on a single from Wellen.
It did not take long Alton to answer as it scored two runs of its own in the bottom of the second.
State Tournament Schedule
Highland American Legion Post 439 Junnior State Baseball Tournament Schedule (Double Elimination)
Thursday at 9 a.m.: Highland vs. Quincy
If Highland wins: They will play the winner of Moline and Breese at 9 a.m. Friday
If Highland loses: They will play the loser of Moline and Breese at 5 p.m. Thursday
Championship game: The Junior Legion state championship game is set for Saturday at 5 p.m. If a team is undefeated and a second game is needed, it would immediately follow the 5 p.m. contest.