Highland Post 439 traveled north to Wheaton to claim the Illinois Jr. American Legion state title, but not without some drama.
The team was limited to a roster of just 12 players, had to string out every available pitcher through five games in four days, and survived elimination twice with walk-off victories before securing a 6-5 win over Barrington in the championship game.
“Everybody contributed in some way to win the state tournament. The boys stepped up and played hard every game, never once did the boys ever give up”, said coach Kyle Schmitt.
Facing the prospect of six games over the four-day double-elmination tournament, coaches Trent Carriger and Kyle Schmitt were forced to take a resourceful approach with their pitching staff.
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“Playing five or six games over four days against the best teams in the state, we had to keep a close count on the number of pitches and still have pitching left for Sunday”, said Carriger. “It took all 12 players to win the state title”.
The team, which wrapped up a 30-5 season record, returned home to a police and fire truck parade through Highland.
Kolby Frey contributed strong innings on the mound in the championship win over Barrington.
Highland trailed 5-1 in the bottom on the sixth inning, but narrowed the gap to one run on RBI hits by Jakob Ernst, Griffin Frahm and Paul Kampwerth.
Chase Wilson led off the Highland seventh with a stand-up double and scored the tying run on a triple by Frey. Barrington loaded the bases intentionally to set up a force out at every base, but Ernst roped one down the right field line to plate the game winner.
“If they ever keep a stat for best dugout, the Highland team would always come out on top. The boys always had a winning attitude in the dugout.”, said Schmitt.
It was the second straight walk-off win for Highland, which also nipped Teutoplis, 6-5, in a semifinal game. Trailing by two runs in the seventh, Schlater contributed double to score Bailey Trame with the tying run and Ernst scored the game-winner on a wild pitch.
Game 1: Highland 4 Danville 3
Highland received great pitching on game 1 from Frey, Tyler Werner and Chase Wilson for the win. Highland scored all its runs in the fourth inning on RBI hits by Kampwerth, Landyn Oestringer, and Wilson.
Highland received a couple of great defensive plays from Ernst, who saved a home run at the fence, and Kampwerth who made a game ending stretch and scoop at first base for the final out in the bottom of the seventh.
Game 2: Highland 8 Gillespie 2
Starting pitcher Michael Barth gave Highland a crucial seven inning performance which kept the remainder of the of the pitching staff on ice for another day. Highland received hits and RBI’s from Wilson, Frey, Wiegman, Frahm, Kampwerth and Oestringer.
Game 3: Highland 12 Wheaton 2
Highland short-gamed the host team behind five-innings on the mount by Frahm. Wilson, Frey, Wiegman, Korte and Oestringer contributed key hits.