The Highland Bulldogs season up this point can best described as one of inconsistent execution and missed opportunities. That is until Monday, when the defending Class 3A state champions had what coach Joel Hawkins hopes will be a “new beginning.”
Held to just three hits over the first six innings by Mascoutah starting pitcher Michael Chaffin, a struggling Bulldogs team got a clutch two-run single by Mike McGill with one out in the seventh to tie the score at 2 then scored the winning run in the eighth inning on a fielder’s choice in a 3-2 victory over the Indians at Glik Park.
Winners of only two of its last 10 games and riding a four-game Mississippi Valley Conference losing streak entering the game on Monday, the Bulldogs (9-13, 2-4) appeared headed for yet another setback as Chaffin, getting brilliant defensive support, held Highland to just three hits over six innings.
But when Indians coach Don Eddy took out Chaffin in favor of reliever Jordan Kratjev to start the seventh inning, Highland had new hope. And as it turned out, maybe a new beginning.
“It’s been a tough stretch for us. We just haven’t been able to execute very well. But tonight we did a little better job, and hopefully we can use this game and get a little momentum heading down the last few weeks of the season,’’ Bulldogs coach Joel Hawkins said. “I told the kids after the game tonight that hopefully this will be a new beginning for us.
“Mike (McGill) came through with a big hit for us in the seventh and then we were able to push across another run in the bottom of the eighth inning. This is a big win for us.’’
Mascoutah (10-13, 1-4) jumped on Highland starting pitcher Matt Beyer for a run in the first inning when Austin Wombacher hit a double with one out and scored on a single by Chaffin.
But Chaffin was even more impressive on the mound.
Making his first start of the season, the 6-foot, 165-pound Indians junior gave Highland just three hits and allowed only one base runner to reach second base. Chaffin was aided by brilliant defensive play from the left side of his infield, as cousins Brenden Schanz at shortsop and third baseman Jacob Schanz made at least six dazzling plays in the field.
But Chaffin, whose longest stint of the season prior to Monday was three innings, wasn’t going to get a chance to finish his shutout bid.
“It was the first time he (Chaffin) had started all year, and the longest he had pitched all year was three innings. We talked about it on the bus on the way over that if we were able to get four good innings from him we would be happy. Well, he gave us six,’’ Eddy said. “We didn’t want to use him up all in one game, and we felt good because we had our ace coming in (Jordan) Kratjev. He just didn’t have it today.’’
The Indians added a run in the top of the seventh inning on a single by Anthony Moll.
The turning point
Kratjev, entering the game with a 4-2 record and a 2.24 ERA in just under 34 innings of work, got off to a shaky start in the bottom of the seventh when he walked Welz to lead off. Senior Jordan Smith then singled to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Both Welz and Smith then moved up a base on a wild pitch and scored a short time later when McGill singled to tie the game at 2.
Beyer and eventual winning pitcher, Welz, who worked the final 1 1/3 innings, pitched well and kept Highland in the game.
“Matt (Beyer) isn’t overpowering. He’s a pitcher who has to move the ball around, change speeds and most of all, he has to throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters. He did that tonight,’’ Hawkins said. “In fact both he and Griffin, did that all night tonight.’’
Will Greenwald led off the bottom of the eighth inning with a single and went to second when Kratjev walked Brock Troxell. Seconds later, Hawkins called for the double steal and Highland had runners on second and third base with nobody out.
Welz then hit a two hopper to Indians third baseman Jacob Schanz who fielded the ball cleanly. But having trouble getting the ball out of his glove, Schanz’s throw to the plate was a second late and Greenwald scored the winning run.