After suffering back-to-back ugly losses, the Highland American Legion Post 439 Senior baseball team found the winning touch and reeled off four wins in its last five games.
First, Highland traveled to Trenton City Park and took a big bite out of the Post 778 Gators with a 12-2 short game that was stopped after five innings due to Illinois’ 10-run mercy rule.
Next, Post 439 traveled to the Greenville College Wood Bat Classic and went 3-1 to capture third place.
On Friday, Highland won both ballgames. Post 439 followed up a convincing 6-1 victory over Shelby County in the tournament opener with a 10-3 thumping of Oneida.
On Saturday in the semifinals, Post 439 suffered an 11-0, five-inning setback at the hands of Mattoon. But Highland bounced back quickly to beat Oneida again, this time 6-2 to claim third place.
“I am not happy with not being able to play in the championship game, because that is what we go into any tournament seeking to do. But overall, I am happy with going 3-1 and getting to play three good teams,” said Highland coach Harry Painter, whose team improved to 5-3 on the season. “And I am very happy that we got three complete games from three different pitchers; that is remarkable in my eyes. Due to vacations and injuries, we only had had five pitchers available, and we were down a catcher, and we made the most of it. Auggie (Matt Augustin) was an iron man. He caught all four games in the heat. So overall, I am pleased to go 3-1 and get third place.”
Highland was scheduled to travel to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville on Tuesday night to take on the Metro East Bears (5-1), who finished second in the Greenville College Classic after also being blasted by Mattoon 9-0 in the championship game.
Post 439 will then compete in the Ron Bone Invitational, a wood bat tournament held in Festus, Mo. (See schedule accompanying this story.)
Third Place Game: Highland 6, Oneida 2
Dillon Hallemann threw the third complete game of the tournament for Post 439 and was very economical in doing so, using just 86 pitches to go the distance. Hallemann surrendered only one earned run (two overall), two hits and two walks to even his record at 1-1. He also fanned two.
Oneida grabbed an early lead after scoring both of its runs (one unearned) in the top of the second.
But it was very short-lived, as Highland catcher Matt Augustin had the big blow of the game in the bottom half with a three-run double to score Andrew Winning (walk), Griffin Welz (reached on error) and Chris Dickman (walk) and put his team on top for good at 3-2.
After Augustin advanced to third on a wild pitch, Blaine Ray hit a sacrifice fly to allow Augustin to tag and score for a two-run advantage.
Post 439 added two more insurance runs in the sixth to make the final gap a four-run margin.
After Ray singled with one out and moved up to second on a passed ball, Cody Bentlage chased Ray home with an RBI single. Then after Bentlage stole second and went over to third on another passed ball, Will Greenwald brought Bentlage home with a sacrifice fly.
At press time, Ray led the team with a .526 batting average and a .625 on-base percentage.
After missing the first three games, Greenwald has made a big impact with a team-high .545 batting average.
Also for Highland, Hallemann is batting .389, and Bentlage is hitting .320 with eight RBI, which is second only to Austin Gusewelle’s 12 driven in.
Mattoon 11, Highland 0 (5 innings)
Post 439 mustered just five scattered hits, and Mattoon rocked two Highland pitchers.
Gusewelle (0-1) was tagged for seven runs (six earned) and 11 hits in four stressful innings. He also struck out three and walked two.
Dickman relieved Gusewelle in the fifth but fared even worse, as he was roughed up for four earned runs in just one inning. He struck out one.
Jordan Smith went 2-for-3 and banged out two doubles for Highland while Hallemann, Winning and Greenwald each had one hit apiece for Post 439.
Highland 10, Oneida 3
Griffin Welz threw Post 439’s second consecutive complete-game gem. Welz (1-0) went the distance on 97 pitches and yielded just two earned runs (three overall) on four hits and two bases on balls while whiffing four.
Ray led the offense after going a perfect 3-for-3 with a solo home run to start the offense for Highland in the second. Ray also added a double and three runs scored in the game.
Hallemann and Bentlage each went 2-for-4. Hallemann also clouted two doubles and knocked in a pair while Bentlage drove in one and scored twice.
Additionally, Gusewelle had one hit and two RBI.
After Ray’s solo shot in the second, Highland scored three times in the third on a Gusewelle’s sacrifice fly to score Dickman (walk) and Hallemann’s two-run double to plate Trent Carriger (walk) and Bentlage (single).
Post 439 tacked on two runs in each of the fourth, fifth and sixth frames.
In the fourth, Bentlage and Guswelle both supplied a run-scoring single while Greenwald and Carriger each provided an RBI single in the fifth.
In the sixth, Gusewelle drew a walk and Hallemann followed with a double before Jordan Smith’s sacrifice fly permitted Gusewelle to tag and score, and Ray’s single drove home Hallemann to wrap up the scoring.
Highland 6, Shelby County 1
In the tournament opener, Mike McGill set the tone with his second straight stellar start after firing a complete-game one-hitter and the only run he allowed was unearned. He struck out eight, walked three and was economical in going the distance after needing just 87 pitches.
In 13 innings this summer, McGill (2-0) had not allowed an earned run and only has surrendered four hits and four walks while punching out 12 batters.
Highland gave McGill plenty of run support with a four-run second at-bat. After Greenwald and Augustin were hit by pitches, Ray hit an RBI single. Bentlage smacked a two-run single and later scored.
Post 439 tacked on a single run in each of the fourth and fifth innings.
In the fourth, Augustin doubled and came home to score on a one-out RBI double by Bentlage to extend the lead to 5-0.
In the fifth, Greenwald had an RBI single to complete the scoring for Highland and make it 6-0.
Shelby County got its lone run in the third with the help of an error that allowed the leadoff batter to reach safely.
Augustin also picked off a runner.
Highland 12, Trenton 2 (5 innings)
Post 439 ended a two-game slide in a big way after pounding out 15 hits, including four for extra bases, and scoring early and often en route to routing the host Post 778 Gators 12-2 in five innings (due to the 10-run mercy rule) Wednesday night at Trenton City Park.
Highland piled on four runs in each of the first two innings, followed by a single tally in the third and a three-spot in the fourth to bring the game to an early conclusion.
“It was a good change of pace and a good game for us,” Painter said. “It was a good atmosphere and the guys had good energy. The spirit of the team was good and the guys came ready to play. We hit the ball real well and also pitched real well.”
Ray and Winning led the hits brigade for Post 439 after matching one another with three hits and a double each. Welz and Bentlage chipped in two hits and one walk apiece.
Gusewelle knocked in a game-high three runs to raise his team-leading RBI total to 10 in four games.
Also for Highland at the plate, Bentlage doubled, drove in two and scored two, Smith added a hit and two RBI, and Hallemann tripled and scored twice.
Montana Gilbert got the start on the bump and earned the victory after going the first four innings and yielding two earned runs and five hits. He whiffed four.
Jake Ramsey came on to pitch the fifth and made short work of Trenton by striking out the side to close the decisive victory.
Post 439 wasted no time busting out the offensive assault with a four-run first frame that was the result of four hits, two walks and one error. Collecting the hits were Smith, Winning, Welz and Augustin. Bentlage and Hallemann drew the walks and both ultimately came around to score.
Highland lit up the scoreboard for another four-run at-bat, this time on five hits and a sacrifice fly. Ray started the spurt with a single and Bentlage chased him home with a double. Hallemann then plated Bentlage with a triple to precede an RBI single from Smith and a single from Winning. Welz capped off the rally with a sacrifice fly to allow Smith to tag and score the team’s eighth run in two innings.
In the third, Gusewelle cracked an RBI single to score Ray (single).
Post 439 closed out the the lopsided win with a three-run fourth. Welz ignited it with a leadoff triple and scored on Augustin’s ground out to second. After Chris Dickman walked and Ray doubled, Dickman came around to score on an RBI single by Bentlage and Ray crossed home plate with the game’s final run on an RBI ground ball by Gusewelle that was booted for an error.
Ron Bone Invitational Wood Bat Tournament in Festus, Mo.
Friday, June 17
2:30 p.m. Highland vs. Festus at Jefferson College
Saturday, June 18
5 p.m. Highland vs. Eureka at Yanks Field
7:30 p.m. Highland vs. Rock at Yanks Field
Sunday, June 19
Noon Highland vs. St. Genevieve at Yanks Field