For most baseball teams, the ninth-place hitter on the team is usually one of its worst, but in Saturday’s Class 3A Salem Sectional final between Highland and Mount Vernon, the team with the better No. 9 hitter prevailed.
After struggling to bring runners home and suffering from an early 4-0 deficit, the Bulldogs came from behind to beat Mount Vernon 6-5 after nine innings thanks in large part to senior Tyler Kimmle, who sent Highland into the super-sectional round with a walk-off double.
As parents went up to Kimmle to congratulate him, he did not seem fazed by the moment.
“It was just another game, another day,” Kimmle said. “You just have to keep playing and doing what you can.”
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Adding to the moment, Kimmle said he knew he could get the game-winning hit due to some fielding adjustments Mount Vernon made in the ninth inning.
“I wasn’t looking for a pitch, but right before that I was walking down to Coach (Joel Hawkins) and I said, ‘Coach that’s a new right fielder.’ I just looked at him, and I knew I was hitting it to right field,” Kimmle said. “It didn’t matter if it was a ground ball, line drive or in the air I said I was getting it out there.”
Hitting in the nine hole, Kimmle went 2-for-3, with two walks and two RBIs. He also was the winning pitcher for Highland, going 2 2/3 innings in relief.
Hawkins said the team has relied on his senior pitcher/infielder a lot lately.
“The last couple of weeks, that little man has been something else,” Hawkins said. “He’s been like Superman. He came in to save the game the other night, gave up a couple of runs and didn’t like it. Today he came in and it’s tough -- he pitches to contact, but he did a good job of missing a few bats today and giving us a chance.”
After a four-run third inning for Mount Vernon, Highland struggled to score its runners, leaving eight runners on base through the first five innings, including two innings where the Bulldogs had the bases loaded and one out.
But in the sixth inning everything seemed to click for Highland.
Senior catcher Matt Augustin started the inning with a single and by the time Highland had gotten to its eighth batter in the inning, it was leading 5-4.
The crucial hit of the inning came off the bat of senior starting pitcher Grant Geppert, who smacked a hit off the third-base bag that gave Highland enough time to score two runs and take the lead.
Hawkins said it was not the easiest inning to watch, but he was pleased with the end result.
“Here, we hit a screaming line drive we can’t even score on with a guy on third,” Hawkins said. “It could’ve been a three-base hit. Then, we hit a little dinker down the line and it turns into (two runs). That’s why you play this game; there’s no way to figure it out.”
With the lead, Hawkins said he was confident the game was going to go Highland’s way, even after giving up the lead in the top of the seventh inning.
“I thought after the sixth inning, ‘We got to get these three outs while we’re hot. Come on.’ Then we got the first out and we go 0-2 on the next guy,” Hawkins said. “These are things that keep you up. Tonight, instead of celebrating like all the kids will be doing, I’ll be thinking of all the things that kept us here an extra hour, like the 0-2 fastball that we allowed them to hit.”
Along with Kimmle, the bottom of Highland’s batting order had a strong day.
Designated hitter Sam Greene, a junior, reached base four times without a hit. After a strikeout in his first at bat, Greene walked twice and was hit by a pitch twice, the second of which allowed him to get on base to score the winning run.
For Mount Vernon, its season ended with the loss. Coach Tim Holloway enjoyed the season, despite the loss.
“Proud of our guys,” Holloway said. “We battled all year. They scrapped to the very end; that’s how they played all year and I couldn’t ask for a better group.”
Neither starting pitcher was given a decision in the game. Kimmle earnedthe victory, going 2 2/3 innings without giving up a run. Aaren Morgan was given the loss in the game, pitching 3 1/3 innings and his lone earned run coming in the form of Kimmle’s walk-off double.
Mount Vernon got on the board first in the game. A pair of errors gave the Rams three unearned runs in the third inning, with the lone earned run in the inning coming off Morgan’s bat in the form of a single.
In the home half of the third, Kimmle started the inning with a walk and came around to score the Bulldogs’ first run on a single by junior center fielder Andrew Winning. The Bulldogs stranded three runners.
In the sixth, Augustineled off the inning with a single and scored when Kimmel was walked with the bases loaded. Following a walk by senior Cody Bentlage, Geppert hit an RBI single off third base that scored two and gave Highland the lead.
In Mount Vernon’s seventh, singles by center fielder Blake Jones and Zach Brockman set the table and second baseman Reed Millwood hit an RBI single that tied the game and took Geppert out of the game.
In Highland’s ninth, Greene and junior Griffin Welz got hit by pitches, setting up Kimmle for the walk-off double.