The Highland High School baseball team was crowned Mississippi Valley Conference champion after a 5-4 come-from-behind victory over rival Triad Wednesday, May 9 at Glik Park clinched a share of it with an 8-2 record.
To make it even sweeter, Jerseyville pulled off an improbable upset with a 6-5 win at Mascoutah to allow the Bulldogs to hoard the MVC championship all to themselves. It was the first league victory in their last attempt for the Panthers (1-9 MVC).
It was Highland's first conference title since 2015.
After beating Highland 13-7 a week earlier, the Indians were 7-1 and controlled their own destiny for the conference title. However, Mascouthah suffered two one-run home defeats to blow the opportunity — first losing to Triad 4-3 and then the 6-5 defeat to Jerseyville — to finish 7-3 and finish in a second-place tie with Triad.
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Trailing 4-2 heading into the bottom of the fifth inning, Highland (19-9, 8-2 MVC) rallied for three runs. Senior right-hander Elliott Prott was clutch in a relief role, holding the Knights (19-10, 7-3) in check over the final 2 2/3 innings to chalk up the critical victory. Prott (3-1, 1.88 ERA) did allow one hit and two walks but struck out four.
In the bottom of the fifth, senior Brock Troxell singled with one out and stole second base to put himself in scoring position. Then, after the second out, senior Colten Knebel smacked an RBI single the opposite way to chop the two-run deficit in half. After senior Dylan Knebel walked and a wild pitch moved both runners up a base, junior Jacob Willis delivered the game-deciding blow as he sliced a two-run double the opposite way to the gap in right-center field.
Colten Knebel and Troxell combined for five of Highland's eight hits, with Knebel showing the way with three hits. Knebel also tied for game-high honors with two runs batted in, while Troxell scored game-best two runs.
"We knew we had to win today to get a share of the conference if Mascoutah won," said Prott, a McKendree University recruit for football and baseball. "We had to focus on winning the game at hand with Triad. We’ve always battled back in games, and today was no different. I had the opportunity on the hill to relieve Payne (Waldman) — who pitched well — to help the team, and they responded. Guys like Connor (Pinsker), Jacob (Willis), Brock (Troxell), and the Knebel twins responded by getting some clutch hits, which they’ve done the entire season. I’m extremely happy along with the other guys to win conference."
After Highland took an early lead on Colten Knebel's two-out RBI single to left to plate Pinsker (double), Triad retaliated with a three-run top of the third on a run-scoring double from Mack Langdon, followed by a two-run double from Hunter Boyd.
But in the bottom half, Pinsker's RBI ground out to score Troxell (single, stolen base) cut Triad's lead to 3-2.
The Knights got their two-run lead back with a tally in the fifth on a RBI by Nick Beeler, only to see the Bulldogs counter with the game-winning three-run rally in the bottom half.
Boyd and Zach Kraabel led Triad with two hits apiece.
Waldman and Langdon were the starters. Waldman gave up four earned runs on seven hits and one walk while striking out five. Langdon allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits and two walks. He punched out a game-high eight.
Kraabel worked a perfect 1 1/3 with two strikeouts.
Highland will host a Class 3A regional at Glik Park . The Bulldogs drew the No. 4 seed and will take on No. 5 Civic Memorial in the second semifinal at 7 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.
The first semifinal, at 4 p.m. on the same day, pits top-seeded Columbia verses the winner of No. 7 Jerseyville and No. 10 East St. Louis.
The two semifinal winners will meet for the regional championship at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 26.
"The regional seedings look good," Prott said. "We have to go through one game at a time and focus on our first game against CM on our home field to get a chance to play Colombia. I like our chances with any team."
Highland 13, Gibault 7
On May 8 at Glik Park, the Bulldogs put the game away after sending 12 hitters to the plate in the fourth inning and exploding for eight runs and a lot of the damage came because of Gibault's own self-inflicted wounds. In the frame, Highland only had two hits but the Bulldogs took advantage of five walks, two hit batsman, three wild pitches and an error.
The Hawks were the own worst enemy for the game with seven errors, eight walks and three hit batsmen.
Offensively for Highland, Troxell had two hits, one stolen base and two runs scored; Colten Knebel added a double, two RBIs, one walk, was hit by a pitch and scored one run; senior Evan Herman had one hit, two stolen bases, one RBI and two runs; Pinsker added two RBIs; and senior Garrett Marti had two walks and two runs.
Highland used five pitchers to get the win, with senior Dustin Phelps recording the win. Phelps was followed on the bump by senior Austin Habermehl, junior Bailey Trame, junior Riley Field and junior Michael Barth following him on the bump. Barth threw a perfect seventh inning.
Highland 11, Civic Memorial 2
On May 7 against Civic Memorial at Bethalto Sports Complex, Pinsker frustrated the Eagles offense, and he got plenty of offensive support, as the Bulldogs swept the season series.
Pinsker gave up 10 hits, but he walked none and punched out 10, to force the Eagles to leave eight runners on base.
With the game tied 2-2, Highland erupted late to put the game away after scoring four runs in the fifth and then piling on five more in the seventh.
Highland banged out 11 hits and was led by twin brothers Colten and Dylan Knebel, who both had multiple-hit performances.
Dylan Knebel helped spark the Bulldogs' offensive onslaught with game highs in hits (three), doubles (two) and runs batted in (three). He slugged a two-run double to put Highland on top 6-2 in the top of the fifth and belted a run-scoring double in the seventh to widen the gap to 8-2.
Colten Knebel added a double and drove in the game's first run in the first inning.
Prott smashed a two-run home run in the seventh to extend the blowout to 10-2.
Joining Prott with one hit apiece for the Bulldogs were Troxell (two runs, one RBI), senior Robert Sigman (double, one RBI), junior Ryan Hacke (one RBI), Marti (one run) and junior Griffin Frahm.