The Highland baseball Bulldogs team ran its winning streak to six games and its record to 15-1 after scoring two wins in as many days.
First, the Bulldogs scored a 5-4 walk-off win over visiting Mississippi Valley Conference foe Jerseyville on Wednesday of last week. Highland traveled to Greenville the next day and overtook the Comets 8-6.
Then Highland hit a losing skid for the first time this season after dropping three games in a row, all at the friendly confines of Glik Park.
First, the Bulldogs dropped back-to-back games in as many days to Southwestern Conference opponents with an 8-2 defeat to visiting Alton last Friday and a 10-4 setback at the hands of visiting Belleville East on Saturday.
Then on Monday, Highland and Waterloo battled past seven innings of regulation play before Waterloo finally pulled out a 5-4 victory in nine innings.
The three straight losses dipped HHS’ overall record to 15-4 prior to traveling to Mascoutah on Wednesday.
Highland next plays Waterloo again, this time at Busch Stadium today, before traveling to Belleville West on Friday and hosting Collinsville for a doubleheader on Saturday. The Bulldogs then return to MVC play on Monday with a home against Civic Memorial at Glik Park.
The loss to Waterloo dropped Highland’s conference record to 3-2, while Waterloo (14-6) improved to 4-1 in the MVC to share the top spot with Jerseyville.
Waterloo 5, Highland 4 (9 innings)
Regulation plus one extra inning still was not enough to settle this battle of the Bulldogs.
But in the second extra inning, Highland’s defense, which had been a strong suit for the majority of the team’s 15-1 start to the season, let the team down for the third consecutive game as Waterloo scored three runs with Highland’s help. HHS committed five errors in the game.
Waterloo’s first two batters in the ninth reached on errors and then Highland center fielder Will Greenwald misjudged a line drive off the bat of Kane Osterhage. Greenwald first came in, but then the ball sailed over his head, allowing the two runs two score and Osterhage to end up at third base with nobody out. Ryan Aycock promptly drove in Osterhage with a single to left field and Waterloo had grabbed a 5-2 lead.
HHS rallied with two outs in the bottom half as Seth Luitjohan walked, Greenwald singled to center and Cody Bentlage walked to load the bases and put the tying run on base. Grant Geppert came through, lining a single to left to score Luitjohan and Greenwald to chop the deficit to 5-4.
Then, with Bentlage in scoring position as the tying run and Geppert on representing the winning run, Waterloo pitcher Ben Maurer got Matt Augustin to fly out to center to end the game.
Geppert racked up three RBIs on three hits for Highland. He singled in the first, third and ninth innings.
The top of the first saw Waterloo take an early 1-0 lead as Osterhage singled, stole second and later scored on a fielder’s choice.
HHS quickly answered in the home half. Greenwald singled, moved to second on Bentlage’s sacrifice, stole third and then scored on Gepper’s RBI single to center.
Waterloo reclaimed its one-run advantage in the second. Brett Degener led off with a double to left, advanced to third on a passed ball and scored on a sacrifice fly from Osterhage.
The Bulldogs pulled back even in the third. With two outs, Geppert and Augustin singled and Jordan Smith walked to load the bases. Geppert then scored the tying run on a passed ball.
The game would remain deadlocked through six scoreless innings as neither team could break through with the timely hit before Waterloo’s three-run top of the ninth was just enough to hold off Highland for the win.
HHS senior left-hander Pete Baumgartner took the loss despite pitching well. The three runs were all unearned, and he surrendered just two hits and walked none while striking out two in 2 2/3 innings of relief.
Smith threw one inning of scoreless relief, giving up one hit and fanning one.
Highland senior Tyler Kimmle started the game and worked the first four frames, yielding two earned runs on six hits and two walks in 5 1/3 innings. He whiffed three.
Belleville East 10, Highland 4
Lancer senior Nick Martin hammered a three-run home run in East’s five-run third inning that powered the Lancers to the victory.
Senior Mitch Harlan’s sacrifice fly pulled East into a 2-2 tie in the third, and Martin followed with his long drive to left-center against HHS junior Griffin Welz that made it 5-2. The Lancers added another run in the inning on junior Patrick Gaul’s single that made it 6-2.
East’s pitching took over from there. Senior Brady Schanuel went the first three innings for the victory, allowing three runs (one earned) on three hits, with two walks and seven strikeouts.
East junior Alex Phillips took over in the fourth and subdued the Bulldogs on one hit over three scoreless innings, which included no walks and four strikeouts.
Sophomore left-hander Mike Lassman allowed two walks and an unearned run in the seventh in his varsity debut, but struck out the side.
The Lancers finished with 11 hits, with senior Sheldon Howard going 3-for-4 with three runs scored and junior Drew Millas going 2-for-3 with two runs scored.
Highland trailed 1-0 in the first, but the Bulldogs scored a pair of runs in the home half after Greenwald and Bentlage led off with successive singles and both later scored on errors to take the early lead.
Very little went right for the Bulldogs from that point on.
“We got beat by a better team today,” said Bulldogs coach Joel Hawkins, whose team fell to Alton a day earlier on Friday. “When you get Southwestern Conference (opponents), you’re obviously working against groups that are used to seeing upper-level pitching. This year, especially, I think the pitching in that league is really good.
“We saw their guy (Schanuel). He has a great fastball and breaking pitch. I was really proud of our kids, because I think we made him throw 71 pitches in three innings. Great at-bats.
“Then (Phillips) came in and threw strikes. The kid came in and did what you need to do. He didn’t put anybody on base and he was quick to the plate.”
Hawkins was particularly disappointed in the Bulldogs’ defense, which committed six errors.
“We certainly didn’t play any defense today,” he said. “They played a lot better defense. When you get to the end of a game against a good team, that’s what you’ll see: ‘OK, who played better defense?’ Well, they did. And (Friday) night, we lost because we didn’t play defense. We like to think of (defense) as a strength. It hasn’t been the last two days.”
East put the game out of reach with a three-run fourth against reliever Sam Greene as its lead grew to 9-3. One run scored on a throwing error before Schanuel and Harlan had RBI singles.
The Bulldogs’ final run came on an RBI single from Geppert in the seventh to score Trent Carriger (walk).
Both East and Highland also were supposed to play Carbondale. But the Terriers did not make the trip because of a discouraging weather forecast.
The Lancers-Bulldogs game began at 10 a.m. and was played uninterrupted, but rain began falling about an hour after the game ended.
Alton 8, Highland 2
Alton hurler Ben Cusac kept the Bulldogs’ bats quiet for much of the game, stifling Highland to only one (earned) run on three hits and two walks while punching out six through his six innings of work.
The Redbirds also took advantage of a leaky Bulldogs’ defense, which committed three errors, including a game-breaking error that led to a five-run fifth inning for Alton. All five runs were unearned but they resulted in the first loss of the season for Geppert (5-1).
Geppert gave up only two hits and struck out five, but his control was awry as he walked five. He allowed six runs, but just the one in the first inning was earned.
For Alton, Bryan Hudson went 2-for-3 with one double, two RBIs and one run scored, and knocked in a pair
For Highland, Bentlage went 2-for-4 with a double, one run driven in and one run scored.
The lead stayed with Alton after the fifth, when it scored five runs on a two-run error and a two-run single by Steven Pattan.
One run in the bottom of the seventh helped the Bulldogs close their deficit to 8-2 on a run-scoring single from Greenwald.
Highland 8, Greenville 6
The Bulldogs rallied for a six-run fifth inning and then held on for the victory.
Trailing 5-2 heading into the top of the fifth, Highland sent 12 batters to the plate and scored a half dozen runs to take the lead for good.
The Bulldogs were sparked in the game by Winning, Geppert and Greene, who teamed up for seven RBIs.
In addition, Luitjohan led Highland with two hits.
The Bulldogs’ six runs in the fifth came on an RBI walk from Geppert, a two-run single from Winning, a run-scoring single by Welz and a two-run single from Greene.
The Bulldogs would not relinquish the lead as Greenville was unable to overcome three-run fifth inning deficit.
Greenville scored one run in the seventh, but it was not enough Highland staved off the Comets.
The top of the first saw the Bulldogs take an early 2-0 lead. Bentlage coaxed a one-out walk and Geppert followed with a ringing double to right to chase Bentlage all the way around to score. The scoreboard lit up again for the Bulldogs when Geppert scored on a groundout by Winning.
Greenville answered the Bulldogs’ top half of the first with two runs of its own in the bottom half.
The Comets brought home one run in the third inning and followed that up with a two-run fourth to grab a three-run advantage at 5-2, setting the stage for the Bulldogs’ game-breaking six-run rally in the fifth.
Highland 5, Jerseyville 4
In a back-and-forth ballgame, the Bulldogs trailed 4-3 heading into their final at-bat in the home half of the seventh.
Bentlage led off with a bunt single after being called safe on a bang-bang play at first, much to the chagrin of the Jerseyville dugout and faithful. Geppert followed with a single to right to put runners on the corners.
After Augustin hit a sacrifice fly to allow Bentlage to tag and score the tying run, Winning smoked a triple over the center fielder’s head to chase Geppert home all the way around to score the walk-off winning run.
Smith earned the victory on the mound after throwing four innings of effective relief of Kimmle. Smith only relinquished one run, two hits and one walk while striking out one.
Kimmle tossed the first four innings, allowing three runs on six hits and two walks while while strikning out two.
Bentlage went a perfect 2-for-2 at the plate, He tripled to right in the first and scored on Geppert’s RBI ground out.
The score remained 1-0 until the third when the Bulldogs tacked on another single tally on a run- scoring single by Geppert to plate Greenwald, who led off with a ringing double to left.
Jerseyville scored three runs in the fourth to grab a 3-2 advantage on an RBI single from James Holmes, a run-scoring single from Kellyun Manning and a RBI ground out from Hunter Bryant.
The Panthers tacked on an insurance run in the fifth on Michael Clendenen’s RBI single to make it 4-2 in favor of Jerseyville.
The Bulldogs clawed back to within one run after scratching across a single tally in the sixth. Winning doubled to left and scored on an error to set the stage for Highland’s last-inning heroics.
Belleville News-Democrat reporter David Wilhelm contributed to this story.