Highland continued its late-season surge on into the postseason with a 6-2 victory over Freeburg Thursday in the semifinal of the Class 3A Triad Regional.
Left-hander Connor Pinsker kept up his stretch of strong starts while Elliott Prott belted a two-run double in the fourth inning and Dylan Knebel slugged a two-run home run in the sixth to help the Bulldogs (24-9-1) reel off their seventh victory in a row and 10th win in their last 11 games.
“Everything has been rolling for us and we’re really excited about what we can do. Everybody’s hitting, playing great defense and it’s been really fun,” Pinsker said.
Pinsker (6-3) baffled the Midgets for five innings on one hit and one walk. He then gave up a run in each of the last two innings, but not before Highland had already rolled to a comfortable 6-0 lead.
“He has been so good the last five outings. He threw a (six inning) perfect game last Thursday ( May 19 against Centralia),” Highland coach Joel Hawkins said. “He’s got three pitches and he mixes it up and keeps them off-balance just enough. He doesn’t strike people out but he just keeps working and fields his position very well.”
Pinsker’s roll in the second half of the season mirrors that of his team as he has posted four wins in a row and has earned a victory in six of his past seven outings.
“I don’t throw too hard so I just just try to throw strikes, get ahead in counts and mix it up and keep them off-balance, and our defense has been great behind me making all the plays,” he said. “I just try to put it in play and not try to do too much. My curveball has been my best pitch lately.”
Freeburg starter Jordan Fritz was effective with a heavy diet of fastballs through three innings, but ran into trouble in the fourth.
After Highland’s Brock Troxell drew a leadoff walk, Pinsker laid down a sacrifice that was booted for an error and Jacob Willis bunted for a single to load the bases. Knebel then grounded into a RBI fielder’s choice that forced out Pinsker going to third but scored Troxell.
Prott then delivered a big blow, hammering a double to center to drive in Willis and Knebel to make it 3-0.
Highland put up another three-spot in the sixth.
Knebel, who came close to yanking one out to left in his first at-bat to lead off the second, crushed a no-doubter over the fence in left for his third homer of the season to bust the game open at 5-0.
“He’s a strong farm kid. He just kind of wakes up, milks cows and comes out and hits,” Hawkins said.
“I thought I had it the first time, the second time I didn’t, and then the third time I just jumped on it and it felt good,” Knebel said. “(Fritz) throws a lot of fastballs and I just jumped on it. I knew it was gone.”
Prott followed with a single. Two batters later, Robert Sigman launched a towering RBI triple to right.
Freeburg finally broke through in the sixth on Jacke Lugge’s RBI groundout. The Midgets pushed across the game’s final run in the seventh on Brady Schmitz’s sacrifice fly to right.
While Freeburg’s season ends at 25-9, Highland will take on Mississippi Valley Conference rival Mascoutah for the regional championship on Saturday. Game time has been moved back to 3 p.m. because Mascoutah has graduation at 10 a.m. The two conference combatants split their two meetings during the regular season.
Highland 15, Mt. Vernon 4
On Monday, May 22, the Bulldogs and Rams battled tooth and nail early, with both teams holding the lead. Mt. Vernon scored all four of its runs in the first two innings to take a 4-2 advantage, but Highland pulled even in the top of the third and then took the lead for good at 5-4 with a single tally in the fourth.
The Bulldogs then took complete charge of the game late, rallying for five runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings.
To accumulate its offensive onslaught, Highland strung 12 hits — five for extra bases — together with seven walks and four Ram errors.
Prott, Pinsker and Jonathan Dickman all recorded multiple-hit games, led by Prott and Pinsker with three hits apiece.
All three of Prott’s hits went for extra bases on two doubles and one triple. He also produced three RBIs, one walk and two runs scored. Prott hit a two-run double to left in the third, and added a RBI double in the Bulldogs’ five-run sixth.
Willis racked up a game-high four RBIs and shared the honors for most runs scored with Pinsker after each crossed home plate three times. Willis made the most of his one hit with a two-run double in HHS’ five-run fifth. He also had a run-scoring groundout in each of the fourth and sixth frames.
Dickman added two hits, the big one being a two-run single in the seventh.
Other contributors for the Bulldogs were Pinsker, who had one RBI to go with his three runs scored; Knebel, who slugged a home run to lead off the second inning; Marti, who drew three walks and scored three runs; Troxell, who walked twice and scored twice; Diaz, who added one hit, one walk and one run; and Rehkemper, who had a RBI single in the second.
Payne Waldman got the win to improve to a team-best 6-1. He gave up four runs (two earned) in the first two innings before settling down to toss three shutout innings. Prott relieved Waldman and ended the game with two scoreless innings on three hits and one strikeout.