Big hits, kicks and jumps
It took them slogging through rainouts, cold bats and scuffling to find a groove but by season’s end, the Highland Post 439 Senior Legion baseball team proved to be one of the best in Southern Illinois.
Post 439, which ended the 2019 summer campaign in the 5th Division Tournament, opened many eyes thanks to a strong 25-7 season.
“I thought it was a great year,” Highland skipper Harry Painter said. “We had 18 guys, and it was a full team effort. Most of the guys accepted their roles on the team and that’s what you need to do to continue to win and I think that’s what kind of established our team this year.”
In the season’s first half, Post 439 simply strived for normalcy, as they lost 10 games to rainouts from mid-June into early July.
Even with the untimely cancellations, Post 439 still was making good progress as they began the first week of July at 12-3. Wins over Alton and Belleville to close the regular season led Post 439 into the District 22 Tournament with a top-two seed and 15-4 mark.
“We came into the District 22 Tournament playing pretty good ball,” Painter said.
Rainouts moved the start of the District 22 Tournament back to July 17 at Optimist Field in Highland.
Once the weather cooperated, a hot Highland club won three games in two days — including 9-1 and 5-0 victories over Belleville Post 58 — to capture the District 22 championship July 19.
Carter Wiegman provided the big bat with three of Highland’s eight hits in the title game and right-hander Griffin Frahm pitched 6 1/3 scoreless innings for the win.
“Winning District 22 meant a lot to us,” Painter said. “I believe that was my third time winning the District 22 championship in 12 years and every one of them means a lot. This one in particular because we didn’t know what to expect going into this year and not only did we win it. but I felt like we just drove right through it.”
Painter cited the emergence of hitters in the second half such as Dylan Knebel (.404), Wiegman (.333), Colton Knebel (.319), and Kolby Frey (.304) along with Jonathan Dickman and Ross Spies.
“Some of those guys didn’t play during the spring, so with the rainouts, it took them a while to get their bats going. But once they settled in, we really hit well,” Painter said.
Another big boost to the team’s run into the 5th Divison Tournament was the pitching prowess of Frey, Dickman, and Frahm. Each hurler gave Post 439 quality start after quality start during the regular season and playoffs.
“All three of them had big years for us,” Painter said. “Kolby was down with a sore arm for a couple of starts, and Jon Dickman picked up the slack for us. Kolby was always good when he was on the mound, and then Griffin going to the championship game and for him to get that win was just phenomenal.”
Highland’s season ends at 5th Division Tournament
In the 5th Division tournament at Fairfield, Post 439 split its first two games the weekend of July 21, losing to Steelville 15-5 and then picking up a forfeit win over Fairfield, which dropped out of the tournament due to a lack of players.
On July 23, Highland started the day well by shutting out Aviston 2-0 as Frey got the win over former Highland High School teammate Payne Waldman. Frey was Highland’s top pitcher during the summer with a 6-0 record, a 0.22 ERA, and 37 strikeouts against just nine walks.
Later that night, with their pitching depth worn down by multiple games in just three days, Highland was forced to use second baseman Jakob Ernst and first baseman/DH Spies on the hill. Odin, in turn, ended Post 439’s postseason run with a 15-5 elimination game loss.
“We were completely out of pitchers and it was over (early),” Painter said. “We just didn’t have the arms to compete at that time.”
The strong finish definitely left Post 439 looking forward to similar success next summer.
“The community was well behind us with the 5th Division Tournament (appearance),” Painter said. “By age we have 10 of the 18 players returning and I don’t know if they are all able to return, but they give us a good foundation and those guys will become the older guys like this year and carry the team.”