Just 48 hours after being no-hit in a 1-0 home loss to Breese Central on March 27, the Highland baseball Bulldogs returned to their home field 48 hours later and bounced back with a good all-around effort in a 6-2 victory over the Kaneland Knights (Maple Park, Illinois) on March 29 at Glik Park.
Then, Highland traveled to Breese on Friday and carved up the Mater Dei Knights 16-0 in five innings.
The two wins lifted Highland’s season record to 4-1. The Bulldogs were scheduled to travel to GCS Ballpark in Sauget to play Granite City on Monday, weather permitting, before traveling to Trenton to play Wesclin on Wednesday and then head to Teutopolis to take on the Wooden Shoes on Thursday.
Highland 16 Mater Dei 0
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The Bulldogs, who outhit the Knights 13-2 and drew eight walks, scored all 16 runs in just three at-bats — five in the third inning, followed by four tallies in the fourth, and then exploded for seven more in the fifth.
Mater Dei (1-5) did not do itself any favors by committing eight errors and issuing the eight free passes.
Junior center fielder Garrett Marti, junior first baseman Connor Pinsker and sophomore catcher Mitchell Focht all had multiple hits to help power the offense.
Marti registered the most hits in the game after going 3-for-4 with a double, one run batted in and three runs scored.
Pinsker and Focht each was 2-for-3, with Pinsker also slugging a double to go with a game-best three RBIs, two runs and one walk, while Focht also drove in a pair of runs and had one walk.
Contributing one hit each for Highland were junior senior right fielder Steven Diaz (one walk, one RBI, two runs), junior third baseman Colten Knebel (one walk, one RBI, one run), junior catcher Dylan Knebel (two walks, one RBI), senior left fiedler Luke Landmann (one RBI, one run) and junior Michael Riffel (one RBI, one run) and junior second baseman Brock Troxell (one run).
Sophomore Payne Waldman pitched all five innings and shut Mater Dei out on just two hits and two walks while striking out three. Waldman (2-0) has not allowed a run in a total of 7 1/3 innings this spring.
Highland 6 Kaneland 2
After the Knights grabbed the early lead with a run in the game’s first at-bat, the Bulldogs quickly fired back with a four-run bottom half of the first and never trailed again.
The scored remained 4-1 all the way until the sixth inning when Kaneland pushed across another single tally.
But Highland responded again, this time with a two-run home half to complete the scoring.
For the Bulldogs, Marti and Diaz, the pitcher, led the offense with two hits each. Marti also drove in one run and scored one run while Diaz scored once.
In addition, Focht hit a two-run triple and sophomore shortstop Jacob Willis added a double, one RBI and one walk.
Diaz (1-0) also notched the win on the mound after working the first five innings and giving up two earned runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out four.
Senior Jake Ramsey threw a scoreless final two frames after working around a pair of walks to earn the save. Ramsey has also posted a win this season.
The Knights slightly outhit the Bulldogs 7-6 and struck first in the first for their only short-lived 1-0 lead.
To lead off the bottom of the first, Troxell drew a four-pitch walk. Diaz then bunted and an ensuing error resulted in Troxell coming around to score to pull the Bulldogs even. Willis then crunched a double into the left-field corner to chase Diaz home and give Highland the lead for good at 2-1.
After Willis stole third, he was out trying to score on a fielder’s choice to off the bat of Pinsker, who ended up at second base on the play. Marti then knocked in Pinsker with a single to center field. After junior designated hitter Dylan Knebel walked, Marti scored on junior third baseman Elliott Prott’s ground out to shortstop to nudge the advantage to 4-1.
Highland then countered Kaneland’s one run in the top of the sixth with a two-run bottom half to close out the scoring in the contest.
Focht supplied the damage by striking a two-run triple to left to plate Pinsker (walk) and Prott (hit by pitch).
Breese Central 1 Highland 0
Three days after amassing 29 runs, Highland was no-hit by Central junior left-hander Dylan Wilson, who effectively mixed up his pitches to flabbergast the Bulldog batters. Wilson was just a sixth-inning walk away from pulling off the rarest and most coveted pitching gem — a perfect game.
Wilson struck out Highland’s first nine batters in a row to open the game and finished with 14 punchouts.
Pinsker, a left-handed hurler, also brought his A-game to the mound at Glik Park. He surrendered just one run on four hits while walking none and striking out two.
And both pitchers, who were backed by strong defenses, were economical in going the distance. Pinsker (0-1), who is more of a pitch-to-contact hurler, needed only 79 pitches to complete the game, while Wilson’s pitch count for the full seven innings was 84.
The Cougars scratched across the only run in the top of the fifth after senior Dalton Wise led off with a triple. Pinsker had a chance to work around it after retiring the next two batters on a crisp ground ball to junior third baseman Elliott Prott and a pop out to himself in foul territory.
However, senior Bryce Harre hit a hard ground ball past the diving effort of Troxell for the game-winning run-scoring single.
After both teams were retired in order, junior Colten Knebel coaxed a leadoff walk in the bottom of the sixth. He then moved into scoring position on a sacrifice from classmate Robert Sigman. But Wilson struck out junior left fielder Evan Herman looking and Troxell swinging to end the threat and keep Highland scoreless.
In the top of the seventh, Central junior Matt Walters hit a two-out single to center and then stole second base. But Pinsker induced senior Jensen Lake to pop out to Prott at third base.
Wilson needed just eight pitches to promptly put an end to the game in the home half. Wilson fanned sophomore left fielder Jonathan Dickman and Willis each on three pitches. Wilson then got Pinsker to line out to shortstop to put the finishing touch on the no-hitter.
Wilson, who made first-team All-Area as a sophomore, struck out 14 against Highland and walked one. He is 2-0 with a 1.79 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 15 2/3 innings.
Central records back-to-back no-hitters
Just a day after Wilson’s no-hitter, Central got another one from senior Carter Truong.
“It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen,” Cougars baseball coach Kevin Crask said after Truong and the Cougars shut down Centralia in an 8-0 victory. “I’ve never had this before. You don’t say anything in the dugout, you don’t want to jinx it.
“Both of them showed great composure through both games, never showed any emotion. They just got the job done.”
Central is now 10-0 after beating up on Greenville 9-1. The Cougars are the top-ranked small-school in the Belleville News-Democrat Baseball Rankings.
Only a Central error kept Truong, an Elmhurst University recruit, from throwing a perfect game. He struck out 12 without a walk, facing the minimum 21 batters.
“I think he threw 84 pitches and 69 of them were strikes,” Crask said of Truong, now 2-0 with a 1.62 ERA. “He was locating really well, he wasn’t afraid to go inside or outside and started mixing in his curveball in the fourth inning. Carter works fast, he wants the ball back; give him the sign and he’s ready to go.”
The defensive play of the game came on a diving catch by Central left fielder Dalton Wise in the second inning.
Wise also helped save Wilson’s no-hitter Monday during a 1-0 victory over Highand with a long running, full-extended catch in the gap in left-center.
“He probably had to travel at least 30 yards on a ball hit into the wind that’s moving all over the place,” Crask said. “Everybody thought it was down, but Dalton was able to flag it down. It was a spectacular catch.”
Belleville News-Democrat reporter Norm Sanders contributed to this story.