In what has been a season of impressive victories, the Highland High School softball team added three more to its resume to hoist the championship trophy of the Triad Invitational Softball Tournament.
First, on Friday, the Lady Bulldogs carved up the Althoff Crusaders 15-0 in four innings in a game that was held at Belleville West High School due to wet field conditions at HHS.
Then on Saturday, Highland turned around and won a pair of ballgames to capture the tournament championship.
The Bulldogs nipped Belleville West 5-3 in the semifinals to post its third win over the Maroons this season.
Then in the championship game, Highland steamrolled O’Fallon 11-2, which, ironically, was the exact same score the Bulldogs mauled the Panthers by in both teams’ season opener.
The Bulldogs, who have outscored their opponents 183-36 this season, ascended to 21-0 and are well on their way to reaching the prestigious 30-win plateau for the first time in school history.
Senior left-handed ace Aubrey Hacke, who was strong in going the distance in the championship game to stay flawless on the season at 11-0 while her ERA is an impressively low 1.318, said the team just takes it one day at a time.
“It feels great,” Hacke said. “We played an all around solid game, offensively and defensively. Coach Greg (Exton) always tells us to play start to finish, and that’s what we did. Yes we are undefeated, but we never look to far ahead of us. Right now, it’s about preparing for the next practice or the next game ahead. We really don’t think about having a perfect season.”
Senior first baseman Hannah Miener crushed a two-run home run — to raise her team-leading homer total to six, hike her team-high RBI total to 24 and she owns the team-best batting average of .486 — to key a five-run third inning in the lopsided championship win over O’Fallon.
“We are taking one game at a time and focusing on every play and every at-bat,” said “We are staying positive and working hard on and off the field together as a team. All of the pitchers are doing an amazing job and our defense backs them up. It feels great to win the tournament, and it’s a great accomplishment for us, because there was good competition in the tournament. I’m so proud of my team and everyone on it. It’s great to see our coaches smile when we won that trophy.”
Senior third baseman Reily Kassay and junior right fielder Addison Rinderer both went a perfect 4-for-4 to lead Highland’s 19-hit assault on the Panthers in the title game.
“It feels great, our goal was to win the Triad Tournament, and today, we came out and did just that,” Kassay said. “We stayed up through every inning, picking up each other left and right. KP (Kirsten Plocher) and Aubrey (Hacke) pitched outstanding today.”
Highland 11 O’Fallon 2
The Bulldogs hammered out 19 hits and and put up a crooked number in four different innings after scoring two runs in the first inning, five in the third inning, two in the fourth inning and finishing with another pair in the seventh inning.
Rinderer and Kassay each went 4-for-4 to lead the way, but four other Highland hitters also supplied multiple-hit games.
Hacke went 3-for-5, while sophomore shortstop Lily Garbett, junior center fielder Hannah Sullens and junior designated hitter Sydney Harnetiaux each contributed two hits.
Rinderer, Miener and junior catcher Lauren Baer each drove in two runs to show the way, while Miener also drew two walks.
Hacke turned in another strong performance in the circle after surrendering just two earned runs on five hits while walking no one and striking out seven.
For O’Fallon, Miley Brunner hit a two-run double in the bottom of the fifth, but by that point Highland had already constructed a 9-0 lead.
The Bulldogs were equal opportunists in that they roughed up both Panther pitchers.
Hayleigh Juenger started but lasted only three innings before being tagged for seven runs (five earned) on 10 hits.
Katie Moore relieved Juenger to open the fourth and was struck for four earned runs on nine hits.
Highland 5 Belleville West 3
The Maroons took their only lead with a single run in the game’s first at-bat.
However, the Bulldogs took charge with a four-run third inning. Belleville West made it very interesting with a two-run fourth but left the tying run stranded in scoring position.
Highland tacked on a key insurance run in the home half of the fifth.
Rinderer and Miener each banged out two hits to account for more than half of the Bulldogs’ total of seven hits.
Highland junior right-hander Kirsten Plocher stayed perfect on the season at 9-0. She was charged with three earned runs, but she was able to evade more damage after allowing six hits and five walks. She punched out nine.
In Highland’s four-run third, Rinderer reached on a bunt single and Hacke whacked a double to right to tie the game at 1 all. After Miener laced a single to left, Garbett belted a towering drive that cleared the fence in left-center for a three-run homer to give the Bulldogs the lead for good at 4-1. It was Garbett’s fifth of the year.
Highland tacked on the game’s final run in the fifth on Rinderer’s RBI single to center field.
The game was called after the sixth due to the hour and a half time limit for the tournament.
Highland 15 Althoff 0
Rinderer (1-0) made the most of her first, and perhaps only start, of the season as she blanked the Crusaders on one hit with no walks and five strikeouts in her four-inning outing.
“I felt good on the mound today and I was just trying to get my defense some action with ground balls. I felt like everything was on today, but I could tell I was a little rusty since I haven’t started a game since July but it felt good going out there and doing what I love,” Rinderer said.
Offensively, the Bulldogs banged out 13 hits and took advantage of six Althoff errors to rally for four runs in the first, eight in the second, and three final tallies in the fourth.
Miener and Garbett each went a perfect 2-for-2 at the dish. Leading the way in the RBI department were and Miener and Baer with three each while Plocher, senior second baseman Peyton Holzinger and Emily Allsman each produced two RBIs.
Baer crushed a three-run homer the opposite way to key Highland’s four-run first inning and Miener crushed a three-run dinger to left to help key HHS’ eight-run third at-bat.
Highland 12 Civic Memorial 2
The Bulldogs, 6-0 in the Mississippi Valley Conference, pounded out 17 hits en route to mauling the host Civic Memorial Eagles in six innings Tuesday, May 2 at Bethalto Sports Complex.
Five Highland hitters produced multiple-hit games. Junior left fielder Kourtney Zobrist, Holzinger, Miener, Garbett and Hacke all collected multiple hits.
HHS scored three runs in the top of the first and then went on to put up crooked-number innings in each of the fourth and sixth frames with five and four runs, respectively.
Zobrist and Holzinger were both perfect at the dish. Zobrist went 4-for-4 and Holzinger was 3-for-3.
The win had a some extra special emotional meaning as it was the first time coach Greg Exton was cleared to coach third base after recovering from having a cancerous tumor removed from his brain.
“It was amazing for us to that, win for him coaching third,” Zobrist said.
Miener, Garbett and Hacke each supplied two hits apiece.
Zobrist scored a game-high three runs while Rinderer, Miener, Baer, Holzinger, Garbett each drove in two runs to show the way in run production. Miener and Garbett each slugged a home run while Hacke belted a triple.
After hurling two no-hitters in a row, Hacke had her streaks of not allowing a hit (in the first inning) and a run both come to an end, but she was still razor sharp.
Hacke worked all six innings and surrendered just one earned run (two overall) on five hits and one walk while punching out 10.
Hacke’s streak of not allowing a run was snapped in the Eagles’ two-run fourth inning but not before she went 24 full frames without allowing a single runner to cross home plate. Her 17-inning stretch without permitting a hit also came to an end.
For CM (7-12, 0-7) Susan Buchanan went 2-for-3 at the plate with one RBI and one run scored.