By all accounts, it has been anything but a normal summer for area American Legion baseball teams in the Southwestern Illinois area.
Count Highland Post 439 among local clubs that have had their summer seasons flipped upside down and inside out by Mother Nature’s fickle ways.
Over the last two weeks, Highland has lost eight games due to rainouts and, most recently, lost two game early last week to rainouts. Now, Post 439 is trying to get into sync after the unscheduled and inconvenient layoffs.
“The team is doing pretty well at this point, so it’s just a matter of trying to get our rhythm back and get back out there playing (every day),” Highland manager Harry Painter said. “We literally didn’t play for eight days and then we had games on Tuesday and Wednesday (last week) rained out so here we were going into Thursday hoping to play.”
In spite of the annoying weather challenges, Highland has fared very well when able to get games in on the diamond. Post 439 enters this week at 12-3 thanks to solid defense, pitching, and timely hitting.
“So far, so good, we’ve started well,” Painter said.
Two of the three losses came recently as Post 439 fell to Aviston 9-2 on June 14 in the championship game of the Trenton Tournament and then dropped a 2-1 league game June 23 against Alton.
In the pitching department, Kolby Frey, who will be a senior at Highland High School, has thrown well, posting a 1-1 mark.
Jonathan Dickman has also been sturdy, defeating Aviston in the Trenton Tournament while posting a two-hitter earlier this summer.
“Jon Dickman also has been doing really well and he’s got a one-hitter and a three-hitter,” Painter said. “He went the distance against Aviston when we beat them early in the tournament and gave up just one earned run.”
Dickman turned in his best mound effort to date June 27 when he fired a complete-game no-hitter against New Athens in a 10-0 Post 439 victory at Optimist Field in Highland.
At the plate, catcher/right fielder Carter Wiegman is swinging a big bat for Post 439, hitting a robust .385. Wiegman is splitting time with Dylan Knabel behind the plate in a platoon arrangement that has worked well to date.
“He and Dylan Knabel alternate catching and both are very, very good defensive catchers and they’re also very good hitters,” Painter said. “So they are both in the lineup somehow during the game as a designated hitter behind the plate or Carter can be in the outfield.”
Left-handed swinging Ross Spies has also been pounding the ball, hitting .385. Spies primarily plays first base and is sometimes in the lineup as the designated hitter.
“He (Spies) started on a tear and came out hitting like over .700 with three doubles,” Painter said. “He’s slowed a little bit (of late) but he’s still raking the ball.”
Painter said he is pleased with the roster he has and that the biggest challenge now is to get them enough playing time to keep them sharp.
“I’ve got 18 complete players and it’s been a good situation with a lot of moving parts here and there, but it’s also been a challenge to get people enough playing time with these game getting canceled as we go towards the playoffs,” Painter said.
“So far, I’m happy with the performance of the team but we’ve got a stretch that (goes through July 11) that is going to challenge our arms but I think everybody is going to be in that situation.”
Coming off a doubleheader sweep of St. Peters at home Sunday, Highland hits the road for Fourth of July holiday week with a Wednesday afternoon game at Mount Vernon and then Sunday, Post 439 travels to Washington, Missouri, for a 2 p.m. doubleheader against Washington Post 218.
Highland Junior Legion playing well
The Highland Junior Legion teams have also been solid so far this summer. Post 439’s No. 1 junior club recently won the Greenville Junior Legion Tournament and enters the week at 10-7 while the No. 2 Junior Legion team rolls into July with an 11-8-1 mark.