Connor Pinsker was masterful on the mound for Highland on Wednesday, tossing a four-hit shutout at Alton.
The 4-0 victory allowed Highland a match-up the next day with Edwardsville to determine which team would be the District 22 regular season champion and the No. 1 seed in the district’s postseason tournament.
But Highland would face an equally commanding hurler in Post 199’s Reid Hendrickson on Thursday. Hendrickson struck out 10 Highland batters and allowed only two hits in a shutout performance of his own at Tom Pile Field at the Edwardsville School District Sports Complex. Edwardsville came away with a 2-0 win and the regular season title.
“He was bringing it, there’s no doubt,” Highland Post 439 manager Harry Painter of Hendrickson.
The loss snapped an eight-game winning streak for Highland, which finished the regular season with an 18-7 overall record and a 10-2 mark in district play. Edwardsville wrapped up the regular season with a 22-5 mark, 11-1 in the district.
“We’re playing well,” Painter said. “We’re pitching well, and for the most part, we were hitting well, until we ran into this last buzz saw.”
The outcome of the Edwardsville game placed Post 199 and Post 439 as the No. 1 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the District 22 Tournament.
“That’s a good ball club, there,” Painter said of Edwardsville. “They are going to be the team to beat, no doubt, but I hope we play them again.”
Highland 4, Alton 0
What would turn out to be a brilliant day for Pinsker had a rather inauspicious start. He hit the first batter of the game. He also allowed the lead-off man to reach in both the second (walk) and third (single), but it never rattled him. He would end up cruising over the first six innings, facing just 22 batters, only four over the minimum.
“Conner pitched a great game,” Painter said.
Highland took at 4-0 lead into the bottom of the seventh in the game played at Alton High School. But Post 126 would no go quietly.
Cullen McBride singled to lead off the final frame for Alton. Left fielder Zaide Wilson followed with a single of his own, which was misplayed in the outfield, allowing the runners to move up to second and third with no one out. But Pinsker would bear down.
He induced pinch hitter Ryan Best to ground out to third, and the runners could not advance. Pinsker then struck out center fielder Benjamin Mossman. Second baseman Elijah Dannenbrink followed by drilling a come-backer to Pinsker, who stabbed it and threw Dannenbrink out at first to end the game.
It was the second big defensive play Pinsker made the game, the other being a twirling jump throw on a bunt attempt by McBride in the second inning.
“The kid’s a player, man,” Painter said of Pinsker. “He’s just an athlete.”
Highland got the only run it would need in the second inning. With one out, Post 439 catcher Dylan Knebel singled to right. Jonathan Dickman then laid down a sacrifice bunt that moved courtesy runner TJ Zobrist to second. First baseman Blake Wellen then hit a high pop up that blooped in for a base hit, falling in a no man’s land near the right field, allowing Zobrist to score.
Highland added three insurance runs in the sixth. Third baseman Colten Knebel led off the inning with an infield single on a contested play. The throw pulled the first baseman off the bag, and though he applied a tag, the umpire ruled it was too late. Alton manager Nick Paulda argued the call, but it stood. Knebel scored three pitches later on a Garrett Marti triple.
Dylan Knebel then walked, and Paulda then pulled his starter, Adam Stilts, in favor of McBride. Zobrist, in again to courtesy run, moved to second on a ground out by Dickman. Four pitches later, Wellen doubled to left, scoring Marti and Zobrist to give Highland a 4-0 advantage.
Highland had 10 hits in the game. Marti (triple, run, RBI), Wellen (double, 3 RBI), Colten Knebel (run), and Dylan Knebel (walk) all had two hits. Brock Troxell and Steven Diaz had Highland’s other two hits.
On the mound, Pinsker earned the win, allowing just four hits and two walks. He struck out four and also picked a runner off first base.
The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for Alton (20-13), which finished 7-5 in district play. Alton will be the No. 3 seed in the District 22 Tournament.
Stilts took the loss for Alton, allowing four runs (all earned) on six hits. He struck out three and walked two in five innings of work.
Edwardsville 2, Highland 0
Highland left-hander Luke Carlson matched Hendrickson through the first five innings, shutting out Edwardsville and punching out seven Post 199 hitters along the way, including striking out the side in both the third and fourth innings.
Carlson would have to pitch out of trouble early, though. Edwardsville started off the bottom half of the first with back-to-back singles from Mikey Hampton and Joel Quirin. Chase Gocke then reached on an error.
But Carlson would get Will Messer to hit a grounder back to him and throw home to force out Hampton. He then struck out Alex Schreiber and got Hendrickson to ground out, thus escaping a bases-loaded, no-one-out situation without a run scoring.
Edwardsville plated both of its runs in the sixth. Messer led off with a walk, and Schreiber followed with a double to knock home Messer. Hendrickson singled, pushing Schreiber to third. Carlson struck out the next hitter and got Cole Hampton to pop to center, but Diaz lost the ball in the lights.
“It was at twilight,” Painter said. “His (Diaz’s) arms went out. He couldn’t see it.”
The ball fell in for a hit, and Schreiber scored to give Post 199 its a 2-0 lead.
Painter then brought in Dickman to try and quell the threat, which he did by getting Conner Loewen to hit into a line-drive double play to third base.
Carlson took the loss in pitching 5 1/3 innings. Both runs he gave up were earned. He allowed nine hits, walked one and struck out eight.
Diaz and Dylan Apken had Highland’s two hits, both singles. Highland never advanced a runner to second base.