Monday’s softball game between Jerseyville and Highland could have been billed as a heavyweight showdown between the top two conference combatants.
The Panthers came in having won 12 of their past 13 games, including six in a row. Jerseyville was also still unbeaten in the Mississippi Valley Conference at 3-0, which was a game ahead of the Lady Bulldogs, who entered on a roll of their own with eight wins in their last nine games.
But the supposed heavyweight battle turned out to be a early knockout for Highland as the Bulldogs capitalized on a plethora of errors by visiting Jerseyville and pounded out big timely hits en route to posting three four-run innings and routing the Panthers 13-3 in five innings. The game was stopped due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Highland has won five in a row and nine of 10 to hike its overall record to 11-3. The Bulldogs also have won their last three MVC game to put themselves as a leading candidate in the chase for the conference championship at 3-1, which is tied atop the standings with Jerseyville (15-3 overall).
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“They definitely let themselves down in several situations,” Highland first-year coach Greg Exton said in reference to the Panthers’ handful of errors. “Fortunately, we were putting the ball in play and when you put the ball in play good things can happen. I am sure they would say they did not play their best game today. In a couple of our losses, we were right there and we didn’t get that big hit, but tonight we got the big hit a couple of times. The girls are feeling pretty good about themselves. They’re coming together pretty well and I think they’re really enjoying themselves.”
Junior second baseman Peyton Holzinger and junior pitcher Aubrey Hacke struck for the biggest blows that did the brunt of the damage for the Bulldogs. The duo combined for five hits, two doubles and eight runs batted in.
Holzinger went 3-for-4 with a double and five RBIs.
With two errors helping Highland already push across one run and load the bases in the fourth, Holzinger busted the game wide open by slamming a three-run double to center to double the lead from three runs to 9-3.
“I’ve just been in a slump lately and I have been trying to work myself out of it,” said Holzinger, who recently suffered through a 1-for-20 slump in a six-game span earlier this month. “The pitch was outside and high and that’s what I like. They (Panthers) are very good but we’ve seen their pitcher quite a bit so we knew what she’s got and we knew we had to tag on runs. And we ate up on their mistakes and kept going.”
Holzinger also lined a two-run single to center in a four-run fifth to make the score 12-3 and bring it within a run from being halted due to the mercy rule. Just one batter, another error put Jerseyville out of its misery two innings early. Sophomore Lauren Baer also had a run-scoring single in the fifth to drive home Highland’s 10th run of the game.
Hacke went 2-for-4 with a double and three runs knocked in. Her double the opposite way to left in the four-run second was key to helping Highland turn a 1-1 deadlock into a 5-1 cushion.
“I went down to Greg and he said, ‘Be confident and get a pitch you want and swing on it.’ ” Hacke said. “I said, ‘Well trust me, I will hit it better than the last one and I did.’ ”
The Bulldogs’ other two runs in the second resulted from two errors and a wild pitch.
“We capitalized on their mistakes and I think it was just an effort game,” Hacke said. “We went hard on the base paths and strung hits together, it was a great.”
Hacke also recorded the win to up her season record to 4-3. She allowed three runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out four over five innings.
After the Panthers gained their only lead of the game with a run in the top of the first, it was short-lived. Senior Lauren Wright led off the bottom half with a triple and scored on Hacke’s RBI ground out to second to knot the game at 1-1, setting the stage for Highland’s first of three four-run frames in the second.
Highalnd 8, Roxana 0
Highland junior pitcher Jenna Gnaedinger has not been used much on the mound this spring, but if there was any rust, it sure was not evident by the ace performance she gave in an 8-0 shellacking of visiting Roxana on Tuesday of last week at HHS.
In what was her first start this season and just the second appearance in the circle overall, Gnaedinger fired a complete-game one-hit shutout to pave the way for an easy victory for the Bulldogs, who won their fourth in a row to reach double digits in victories at 10-3.
Gnaedinger (1-0) walked five but she easily made up for that by striking out a lucky number for her at 13 batters. She punched out the side in the second and sixth innings and whiffed two in each of the fourth and seventh frames.
“It felt good to get a win,” Gnaedinger said. “The inside corner was my hot spot yesterday and I went there a lot to get strikes. My movement pitches were all doing what they were supposed to and my arm felt great!”
Although she did not need it, Gnaedinger received plenty of run support as Highland pounded out 10 hits and sandwiched crooked-number innings in the third (four runs) and fifth (two) innings between a single tally in each of the second and sixth frames.
Hacke and Holzinger provided multiple-hit games. Hacke went 3-for-4 and knocked in a pair and scored a pair, while Holzinger was a perfect 2-for-2 with one RBI.
The only run of support Gnaedinger would ultimately need came in the second when junior Hannah Miener doubled, moved over to third base on a wild pitch, and scored on a sacrifice fly from Holzinger.
The Bulldogs piled on four more runs in the third to increase the margin up to 5-0. Hacke got it going with an run-scoring single to center, freshman Lily Garbett followed with a double to left to plate Wright (walk) and Baer capped the rally off with a two-run single to center to drive in Hacke and Garbett.
Three errors helped Highland add its final three tallies.