The Highland High School softball team fell 5-3 at Edwardsville to suffer its first loss against a Southwestern Conference opponent this season. However, the Lady Bulldogs bounced back with a 6-0 victory over visiting Collinsville on Friday.
The loss to Edwardsville was Highland’s third in its past six games, but the win over the Kahoks lifted Highland’s record against the Southwestern Conference this season to an impressive 8-1 while it also hiked the Bulldogs’ overall season ledger to 26-3.
“We just hit a little slow spot, and hopefully, this game will get us going a little bit better,” Highland coach Greg Exton said.
Highland traveled to Effingham on Monday to wrap up the regular season. Then the Bulldogs host a Class 3A regional at its field for the first time in many year. Highland will first take on Mississippi Valley Conference rival Civic Memorial in the semifinal. That first game was scheduled to be played on Tuesday afternoon. The other semifinal pits MVC combatants Triad and Jerseyville against one another on Wednesday.
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The regional championship game is slated for 11 a.m. Saturday.
“We were excited to find out from (athletic director) Caleb (Houchins) at the beginning of the year that we were going to be hosting a regional,” Exton said. “I am looking forward to that for sure, but I’ve never been a big believer in home field advantage in some sports ... But I do like our chances. If we play to our potential, we will win the regional because we have beaten every team that is in it.”
Highland 6 Collinsville 0
Highland senior ace Aubrey Hacke was almost unhittable again. The University of Nebraska Omaha recruit had a perfect game through two outs in the fifth inning before the Bulldogs’ only error allowed a base runner.
It was the ninth shutout this season for Hacke, who ended up only allowing two hits and walking none while striking out nine. The hard-throwing left-hander improved to 15-1, which is a jaw-dropping 93.8 winning percentage, and dipped her ERA to 1.185. For the season, Hacke has only surrendered 18 earned runs, 54 hits and 22 bases on balls in 106 1/3 innings of work.
“She is having a fabulous year. Not only is she pitching tremendous, but she is hitting the heck out of the ball, too,” Exton said of Hacke, who was batting a team-high .465 with a team-best .531 on-base percentage after Friday’s victory over Collinsville. “She is just having a great year all the way around, and she is finishing it out right here her senior year, that’s for sure. I just hope she can stay on a roll through the playoffs.”
Highland mustered six hits off Collinsville’s soft-throwing Faith Hall, with HHS junior catcher Lauren Baer leading the way after going 2-for-3 with a double and one RBI.
Contributing one hit each for the Bulldogs were sophomore shortstop Lily Garbett, senior second baseman Peyton Holzinger, junior center fielder Hannah Sullens and junior left fielder Addison Rinderer. Garbett and Sullens also each provided one RBI while Holzinger and Rinderer each scored one run.
In addition, senior first baseman Hannah Miener, a Danville College pledge, supplied one RBI and one run without the benefit of a hit.
“It was a good job. We played pretty good defense,” Exton said. “I would have liked to have hit a little better today. I don’t think our team is the only one, but our team struggles a lot against slow pitching, and she (Faith Hall) just didn’t have much speed at all. And it affects us, especially because we play a pretty tough schedule, so we run into a lot of good pitchers over the course of the season that are throwing pretty hard. So then when you run into somebody like this, it can throw you off. I told the girls to never expect a fastball, because she can not throw the ball by you. But she held us to six runs, and I would have expected us to score more than that.”
Highland scored all six of its runs in the first three innings.
The Bulldogs scratched across the only run they needed in the first frame. Rinderer led off with a single to center field. Two out later, Rinderer stole second and Garbett knocked her in with a single the opposite way to right.
In the second, Baer crunched a double to right and her courtesy runner, Lexi Gilliam, scored on Sullens’ RBI single to make it 2-0.
Highland pushed across four runs in the third to blow the game wide open. Hacke was hit by a pitch to lead off before going on to steal second base, move over to third on a ground out, and then scoring on Miener’s RBI fielder’s choice.
Back-to-back singles by Holzinger and Baer scored Miener to push the advantage to 4-0.
Gilliam, the courtesy runner for Baer, ended up scoring the game’s final run on a wild pitch.
Edwardsville 5 Highland 3
Despite having a cancerous brain tumor removed and undergoing radiation and chemotherapy all season, Highland coach Greg Exton has found a way to keep up the energy to be there for his Bulldogs and they have there for him. On Monday, May 15, the Edwardsville Tigers were there for him, too.
Edwardsville charged admission with all proceeds going to Exton to aid in his fight and Tigers coach Lori Blade after the game presented Exton with the $900 raised from donors who watched the Tigers nip the Bulldogs 5-3 in a clash of Metro East large-school toughies.
Edwardsville outhit Highland 9-5, with five of the Tigers’ hits going for doubles.
Hacke had her rockiest start of the season in suffering her first loss. Hacke gave up five runs (four earned) on nine hits and one walk while striking out six.
Baer led Highland with two hits and a pair of RBIs.
Afer the Tigers nabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first on a RBI double by Anna Burke, Baer gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead in their ensuing bat in the second. Baer followed Holzinger’s two-out double to center with a two-run home run to center.
But Edwardsville quickly tied the game in the home half on a run-scoring double by Taryn Brown.
In the fourth, Garbett put Highland back on top, 3-2, with a leadoff homer to center. Garbett and Baer share the team lead with seven homers each.
However, the Tigers retaliated again in the bottom half on a RBI double from Brooke Weber.
Edwardsville pushed across the two winning runs in the fifth on a bunt single by Maria Smith and accompanying Bulldog error on the play which scored Burke (double) and Sarah Hangsleben (single).
Tiger pitcher Jordyn Henricks shut out Highland over the final three innings for the win. She allowed three runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts in seven innings.