The Highland High School baseball team had a rough start to the season after dropping a pair of non-conference games.
First, on Wednesday, March 21 at Glik Park, the Bulldogs engaged in a wild, see-saw battle with visiting Freeburg, with the Midgets eventually barely hanging on for an 11-9 victory.
Then on Thursday at Blazer Field in O'Fallon, Highland found out why O'Fallon is ranked as the third-best team in Class 4A as the Panthers routed the Bulldogs 10-0.
O'Fallon 10, Highland 0
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The Panthers (5-0) took charge of the game early after scoring one run in the first inning, and then exploding for a five-run second frame. The Panthers tacked on single tallies in the third and fourth innings before closing it out with a two-run sixth to bring the game to an end an inning early due to Illinois' 10-run mercy rule.
Josh Gibson, Quinn Lowery, Nick Boone and Hayden Juenger all banged out two hits apiece for the Panthers, which totaled 12 hits.
Gibson also led the way with a pair of RBIs and a pair of runs scored, highlighted by a swatting a solo home run in the third inning. He also added a RBI single to drive home O'Fallon's 10th run to end the game.
Lowery also stole two bases, scored twice and knocked in one while Boone added one RBI, one stolen base and one run, and Matthew Albritton had two RBIs.
Conversely, Highland only mustered three hits, including only one off winning starter Juenger, who blanked the Bulldogs through the first five innings. He punched out seven and walked just one.
Senior Evan Herman had two of the Bulldogs' three hits, and senior Connor Pinsker had the other hit for Highland (0-2).
O'Fallon played an error-free game, while the Bulldogs committed multiple errors for the second straight game.
Freeburg 11, Highland 9
The Bulldogs outhit the Midgets 13-5, but a leaky defense and pitchers with control problems helped sink Highland on a frigid day to open the season.
The Bulldogs committed five errors and walked 13 batters. Far from perfect, Freeburg had three errors.
Highland's poor play in the field was no more glaring than in the top of the seventh with the Bulldogs trying to close out a 7-6 victory with senior left-hander Robert Sigman on the bump.
Sigman and Highland looked like they would be able to work around a leadoff walk and the first error of the inning as the Bulldogs got to two outs with the tying run at third base and the go-ahead run at second. Sigman got to a full count and within one strike of closing out the save and the Bulldogs' first win of the season, but he lost control and ended up walking three consecutive hitters to hand Freeburg and 8-7 lead.
It spiraled down from there as the Midgets ultimately made it a five-run frame.
A balk was then called on Sigman to allow the ninth run to score, which was followed by the second error of the frame and fifth of the game to score the 10th tally.
Senior right-hander Austin Habermehl came in to relieve Sigman and hit a batter to force in the Midgets' final run. Habermehl then struck out the final Freeburg batter but not before five runs had crossed home plate to bury the Bulldogs in a four-run hole.
Because of the two errors, none of the five runs charged to Sigman were earned.
Back-to-back doubles by Marti and Knebel to lead off the bottom half of the seventh quickly cut the deficit to 11-8. Then after two outs, Schlater and Herman hit consecutive singles to put the tying runs on base, but Willis grounded out to second to end the game.
The loss spoiled good offensive performances by senior Jonathan Dickman, sophomore Kyle Schlater, senior Dylan Knebel, Herman and senior Garrett Marti.
Dickman rapped out a game-high three hits, while Schlater, Knebel, Herman and Marti each collected two hits apiece.
Schlater drove in a game-best three runs, and Herman knocked in a pair, while Knebel scored a game-leading three times.
Paden Musckopf led Freeburg's offense with two hits, two walks and two runs batted in.
Both starters struggled. Pinsker allowed five runs (three earned) on four hits and two walks with two strikeouts in 2 2/3 innings, while Freeburg's Travis Bergkoetter was tagged for seven runs (four earned) on eight hits and three bases on balls with two strikeouts.
Highland found itself in a quick 3-0 hole after the top of the first, but the Bulldogs rallied for a six-run bottom of the second.
Highland sent 10 hitters to the plate on six singles, one walk and one error.
After singles by Knebel and Dickman were sandwiched by Sigman reached on an error, Schlater sliced a two-run single the opposite way to right to make it a one-run game.
After Schlater stole second base, Herman singled to center to plate both Dickman and Schlater to put the Bulldogs on top 4-3.
Highland wasn't done yet, as Pinsker singled and later scored the inning's final run on a RBI single by Marti to double up Freeburg at that point 6-3.
The Midgets pushed across two runs in the top of the third and tied the game at 6-6 with a single run in the top of the fifth.
But the deadlock was short-lived. The Bulldogs reclaimed their advantage with a single tally in the home half of the fifth as Knebel was hit by a pitch to lead off and later scored on an error.