The Highland Junior Legion Post 439 baseball team battled through two elimination games to post 2-2 record at the American Legion Junior State Baseball Tournament last weekend in Salem.
After tournament play was rained out Thursday, Highland opened the state tourney Friday afternoon with a 5-4 walk-off loss to Danville.
Later on in the afternoon Friday, Post 439 bounced back with a 15-5 short game of Wheaton in six innings to survive its first elimination game.
Then on Saturday, Highland throttled Fifth Division champion Teutopolis 14-6 to prevail in a second game elimination game.
Then later Saturday, Post 439 fell behind Salem 8-2 heading into its final at-bat in the bottom of the seventh before rallying to get the bases loaded with the tying run at second base with two outs before falling just short at 8-6.
Highland finished the season at 21-19 but not before facing seven elimination games and winning six of them.
“I am sure proud of how this team battled the second half of the season,” said Post 439 coach Derek Reckmann. “We got destroyed in two games at the Greenville Tournament and finished like 14th out of 15 teams and fell to four games under .500. I told the boys that we have 10 games left in the season and it is up to them how they want to the rest of the season to go and how it will be remembered. Thankfully, I never saw that team again, and they were great the rest of the year and battled hard in every game.
“We played our best baseball at the end of the season, and to do it against good competition really says a lot about this team. I had so much fun this summer and there is a lot to take away from this season.”
Salem 8, Highland 6
Post 439 trailed 8-2 after the top of the seventh, but Highland made Salem sweat it out to the very end after scoring four times and having the bases loaded with two outs, including the tying run in scoring position at second base, before the game and its season finally came to an end.
In Post 439’s four-run fifth, Dylan Knebel crunched a two-run ground-rule double to left field, Ross Spies added an RBI ground out, and Wellen earned an RBI walk. Michael Barth had the chance to be the hero as he came up to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. But Barth struck out on a pitch on the outside corner.
Highland scored one run in each of the first and sixth innings.
In the first, Spies doubled and Colten Knebel singled to put runners on the corners for Ryan Hacke, who hit a sacrifice fly to get his team on the scoreboard.
In the sixth, Dylan Knebel led off by lining a home run over the fence in left-center.
Colten Knebel was pinned with the loss after conceding five runs (three earned) on nine hits and two walks in six innings of work. He struck out two.
Alec Kustermann was tagged for three earned runs on three hits and one walk in one inning.
Salem beat Highland three out of four times this season.
Highland 14, Teutopolis 6
T-Town was the Fifth Division champion and entered this elimination game with an impressive 21-4 record, but hot-swinging Post 439 was more than ready for the challenge and even built a 12-1 lead after five innings of play.
Dylan Knebel and Spies led the offensive assault. Knebel reached base all five times after going 3 for 3 with two walks, four runs scored and three RBI, and Spies went 4 for 5 with four RBI and two runs scored.
After Teutopolis got a run in the first on an error on a strikeout, Highland got the run right back on back-to-back, one-out doubles by Knebel and Spies.
Post 439 seized the lead for good with a six-run bottom of the third. Big blows in the frame came on Speis’ two-run double, Colten Knebel’s RBI single, Blake Wellen’s two-run double, and Michael Barth’s run-scoring single.
For all intents and purposes, Highland put the game away with a five-run fifth to go on top by an insurmountable 12-1 margin.
After consecutive walks to Wellen and Barth, and Delaurent singled to load the bases, Jonanthan Dickman hit a sacrifice fly, Dylan Knebel punched a two-run double to left-center, Spies cranked an RBI single, and Hacke hit a run-scoring single to give Post 439 the 11-run lead.
After T-Town hit a three-run home run in the fifth and got two more in the sixth to chop the deficit down to 12-6, Highland pushed across the game’s final two tallies in the top of the seventh.
Dickman singled and Dylan Knebel walked to precede Spies clubbing a two-run double to right field to chase both home.
Griffin Frahm collected the victory after giving up five runs (three earned), four hits and three walks while punching out seven in 5 1/3 innings of work.
Luke Landmann recorded the final five outs while being charged with one earned run.
Highland 15, Wheaton 5 (6 inning)
Post 439 trailed 4-1 after 3 1/2 innings before its offense came to life in a big way in the bottom of the fourth to take charge of the game.
In the home half of the first frame, Highland got on the board after the Knebel twins belted back-to-back doubles. Dylan Knebel first hit a two-bagger and his Colten Knebel changed places with him.
But after falling behind 4-1, Post 439 erupted for a seven runs in the fourth to take a commanding 8-4 advantage.
Wellen started the huge inning with a single and capped off the scoring with an RBI single.
In between, Dickman had a run-scoring single, Dylan Knebel was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to force in a run, Ross Spies knocked in a run with a sacrifice fly, and Landmann hammered a two-run double.
Highland piled on four more runs in the fifth and three more in the sixth to end the game an inning early due to the 10-run mercy rule.
In the fifth, Dickman sparked the rally with a double and Dylan Knebel walked to set the table. Colten Knebel followed with a single to plate Dickman and Hacke slapped an RBI single to drive home Dylan Knebel.
Then after Landmann singled to load the bases, Wellen had another sacrifice fly and Delaurent supplied an RBI single to extend the lead to 12-4.
After Wheaton got one run back in the top of the sixth, Post 439 put the game to bed with a three-run bottom half.
Dickman got it started with walk, and Dylan Knebel pounded a double to chase Dickman all the way around to score. Then, after Spies and Colten Knebel were hit by pitches, Hacke knocked in one with an RBI ground out and two batters later, Wellen ended the game with a run-scoring single to bring Spies home with the walk-off winner.
Michael Barth picked up the win for Highland. He battled to overcome a shaky 30-pitch first inning to settle down and keep the damage down, although his pitch count ballooned to 93 in 4 2/3 innings of work.
Alec Kustermann worked a scoreless final four outs for Post 439.
Danville 5, Highland 4
Dickman smacked an RBI double to score Paxton Delaurent, who had singled, to knot the game at 4-4 in the top of the sixth. However, Danville rallied to win it in the bottom of the seventh after loading the bases and walking it off with an RBI single.
Dickman took the loss, but he did a good job of attacking the zone. Danville was a good hitting team and hit some balls hard. Danville went on to win the junior state championship with a 4-1 victory over Breese Grey in the finals.
Dickman ended up allowing five runs (four earned) on seven hits and one walk. He struck out two.
Offensively, Highland was led by Colten Knebel and Dickman, who both went 2 for 4 at the dish. Knebel also drove in three runs while Dickman, the leadoff hitter, added the game-tying RBI and also scored one run.