After being tagged with a 7-2 home loss from conference-rival Triad on Monday, April 20, the Highland High School softball team took out its frustration full force on host Roxana the very next day, scoring 11 runs in the first inning en route to shredding the Shells 15-2 in five innings.
Next, on Wednesday, April 22, Highland traveled to Jerseyville and got key hits at the right time to post a 5-2 win over the host Panthers and get back on track in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
But then on Monday, HHS dropped a 6-2 road decision to still unbeaten Waterloo in the battle of the Lady Bulldogs.
Prior to Tuesday’s road game at East Alton-Wood River and Wednesday’s home game against Mascoutah, Highland stood at 11-4 overall and 3-2 in the MVC.
With the win over HHS, Waterloo remained perfect at 22-0 overall and 5-0 to sit alone atop the league standings..
Waterloo 6, Highland 2
The measure of an undefeated softball team isn’t the number of wins it amasses or the average margin of victory, says Waterloo coach Matt Mason. It is its ability to challenge itself and continue to improve.
On that front, the Bulldogs came away with more than just their 22nd consecutive victory, a 6-2 triumph over MVC rival Highland Monday.
“You know the number is nice, but for me the biggest thing from one game to the next is are we getting better? I think today we did,” Mason said. “I thought for a while we might have gotten complacent a little — winning may have seemed a little too easy. So I’d much rather have a game like this against a quality team that poses a challenge. To battle and have the at bats we did tells me more than a lop-sided win.”
Highland coach Brittne Zobrist may have had the same take-away from the game, even with the loss.
Her young team — 11-4 overall with just one junior and one senior on its roster — could have secured a tie for the conference lead with a win over Waterloo. It matched Waterloo through four innings behind strong pitching from sophomore starter Aubrey Hacke and clutch defense.
“The girls never stop, which is what we like about this team,” Zobrist said. “We’re learning a lot and expect to get better.”
The difference between her young Bulldogs and the unbeaten veteran Bulldogs in the other dugout? Experience, she said.
“They force you to make mistakes,” said Zobrist. “That’s what great teams do.”
Waterloo turned on the pressure in the bottom of the fifth inning to take the win.
The teams swapped a run in the first inning, Highland with a lead-off triple by Mallory Rutz followed by an RBI single from Hacke, and Waterloo with a single from Kaitlyn Storm to drive home Taylor Augustine, who had reached on a walk.
The game turned in the favor of Waterloo when a lead-off walk, two errors and a wild pitch gave Waterloo all the toe-hold it needed. The Bulldogs batted through the order in scoring four runs.
“I started off with a walk, then a hit here and an error there and it kind of got away from us,” Hacke said.
Katey Polacek earned the lead-off walk pinch hitting for Emma Snodgrass, who reentered the game to run the bases. She stole second, went to third when the ball squirted away from the Highland shortstop and scored on a single by lead-off hitter Kylie Albrecht.
Waterloo loaded the bases when Taylor Augustine singled and Emelia Modglin reached on another Highland error. Albrecht scored when a off-speed pitch got away from Hacke and sailed to the backstop.
Erica Schaab and Storm followed with RBI singles to put Waterloo ahead 5-1.
Hacke (4-3) was charged with three earned runs after holding Waterloo to just four hits through the first four innings. Kirsten Plocher and Jenna Gnaedinger pitched in relief for Highland.
Modglin hit a sixth inning home run to stretch the Waterloo lead.
Lauren Wright responded with a home run in the Highland seventh.
“I was very proud of the way the girls approached their at-bats today, and even up until the fourth inning we were having good at bats, we just weren’t being rewarded for them,” Mason said. “We started to put a few hits together out there and got the big inning that we needed. Highland is a very good team right now and will be for a couple of years to come. We were fortunate we got a win today.”
Waterloo pitcher Kasey Bradley lasted the full seven innings, holding Highland to two earned runs on four hits. She struck out seven, walked none and hit a batter. Wright’s home run was the first hit against Bradley all season.
She received help from her defense, namely a diving shoe-string catch by Snodgrass in right field.
Waterloo was going to be tested again on Wednesday at home against 12-5 Triad, which also could catch the Bulldogs in the Mississippi Conference standings with a win. Last Friday, Waterloo traveled to Triad and upended the Knights 10-6.
Highland moved on to games at Wood River (Tuesday) and at home against Mascoutah (Wednesday) and Wesclin (Friday).
“We’re going to take this loss as a momentum booster and we’re going to keep fighting,” Hacke said.
“All their pitchers did a real good job moving the ball against our hitters and kept us off-balance,” Mason said. “It’s a credit to them, but also a credit to our girls for battling the way they did. They are a good club right now and they are going to be in the next couple of years to come.”
Highland 5, Jerseyville 2
Both teams had scoring chances, but it was the Lady Bulldogs who were better able to capitalize on their opportunities.
Jerseyville actually outhit HHS 9-8. However, the Panthers left eight runners stranded on base, while Highland made more out of its eight hits.
“Today we really put some hits together at the right time,” Zobrist said. “We played really good defense. Our outfield made some great plays even with the fierce wind today. It was just an all-around team victory today.”
Both Peyton Holzinger and Reily Kassay got on base three times in the game on two hits and one walk.
Holzinger, who scored two runs, smacked an RBI single in Highland’s two-run third to plate freshman Addison Rinderer, courtesy running for Plocher (single). Holzinger also walloped a double and scored on a wild pitch in the fifth, and walked and scored Highland’s final run on a wild pitch in the seventh.
Kassay hit an RBI single in the third to score Hannah Miener (single). Kassay also singled in the second and walked and stole a base in the fifth.
In addition, Hacke ripped a one-out double in the fourth to drive home Frey, who led off with a single.
Plocher (4-0) minimized the damage, allowing just one earned run (two overall) on nine scattered hits. She walked none and struck out six.
Plocher only conceded an unearned run in the first before finally being touched for the earned run in the sixth. In the sixth, Mackenzie Thurston hit a two-out double to score Ashleigh Trochuck, who started it with a two-out single.
Bethany Muenstermann took the loss for the Panthers after yielding five runs (four earned) on eight hits and three walks. She fanned five.
Highland 15, Roxana 2 (5 innings)
The game was decided in the top of the first inning when the Lady Bulldogs paraded 16 hitters to the plate en route to detonating for a mammoth 11-run inning. Highland racked up 12 hits and took advantage of two Shell errors in the frame.
Gnaedinger was the beneficiary of the gluttony of offense, but she pitched well in her own right to improve to 3-1 on the season. In her five innings of service, she allowed only one earned run (two overall) on three hits and two bases on balls while whiffing three.
“We came out hitting,” Zobrist said. “Jenna pitched great. She had her movement going and kept them off-balance. She really put out a solid performance. She helped us get back on track after the Triad loss. Our defense was solid behind her as well.”
Miener, Wright and Rutz all were perfect at the dish. Miener went 3-for-3 with one RBI and one run scored.
Rutz and Wright both went 2-for-2. Rutz also belted a triple, drove in a pair of runs and scored three times, while Wright also knocked in two runs and scored once.
Also chipping in two hits apiece were Holzinger and Sierra Huelsmann. Holzinger also tripled and added two runs and one RBI, while Huelsmann added one RBI and one run, and Hacke had a double, two runs and one run driven in.
In the Goliath first inning, Highland scored its 11 runs on an RBI triple by Holzinger, a wild pitch, an RBI single from Huelsmann, a two-run error, an RBI single by Gnaedinger, a two-run triple from Rutz, an RBI single by Hacke, an RBI single from, Wright and a fielder’s choice by Kassay.
The Lady Bulldogs then tacked on two runs in each of the second and fifth frames. Roxana got its only two runs in the fourth.]
In the second, Roxana was in a giving mood in helping Highland score its pair of runs. Rutz coaxed a two-out walk, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on an error, and Hacke reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch and also scored on a wild pitch.
In the fifth, Frey hit a two-run single to center to knock in both Jill Garbett (reached on error) and Gnaedinger (walked).