Not that the Highland “Bench Mob” is responsible for the Bulldogs’ state baseball tournament trip, but someone should at least pay a little attention to the evidence.
On Saturday with Highland trailing Mount Vernon 4-1 in the sixth inning of their sectional championship game, Tyler Pollard suddenly gathered hats from every player that would contribute and stacked them all on his head — multiple-rally cap style.
“I was just pumped up, we were banging on the walls and everything,” said Pollard, a junior second baseman who can get at least eight hats on his head in a fine bit of dugout engineering and precision balance. “I turned to my teammates and said ‘Everybody give me your hats, we’re going to stack these rally caps.’’’
The move worked when Highland tied it in the sixth and Grant Geppert hit a two-run single that bounced off the third-base bag and temporarily gave his team the lead. Mount Vernon tied it in the seventh, then Pollard had the hats stacked once it again in the ninth when Tyler Kimmle’s clutch hit won the game 6-5.
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The Bench Mob includes Pollard, Austin Brown, Matthew Beyer, Trent Carriger, Michael McGill and Nick Schmollinger.
“We just have these little feelings in the Bench Mob and Austin Brown’s said it the last two games,” Pollard said. “He just has these little feelings where something’s about to happen.”
Brown and his fellow Mob-sters had another feeling Monday at the 3A Sauget Super-Sectional. The Bulldogs were down 2-0 in the sixth inning and had gotten only two hits to that points against Champaign Centennial.
Cody Bentlage tripled, Geppert drove him in and Andrew Winning launched a two-run homer — the “Sauget Smash” — over the fence in left that provided a thrilling 3-2 win and sent the Bulldogs on their way to the state tournament.
Pollard said all the factors were in place, including the now-famous rally hat stack, but “not until Cody tripled. We are trying to do as much as we can to contribute.”
The hat-stack is far from the only superstition being carried forward by the Bench Mob.
Beyer sits on a specific plastic bucket, which is always located in the same spot, while charting pitches and won’t move or change it for anything. Since the playoffs began, most of the Bench Mob have not shaved and won’t cut their hair.
The Gatorade mix has to include three packets of “cool blue” flavor on game days and two packets of lemon-line for practices. On bus rides home, a broken wooden bat handle is used as a makeshift microphone by Carriger as he conducts ESPN-worthy postgame interviews with teammates.
Schmollinger may have kicked off the whole thing by finding a lucky quarter in the dugout for the Jerseyville Regional opener against Civic Memorial.
“Little did he know its powers,” Pollard said. “Utilized by Schmollinger every game since, it has brought us five straight victories.”
Wait, there’s more.
Carriger, who keeps the scorebook, will only use a yellow pencil for offense and a purple one for defense. Other players are eating similar meals, washing or not washing parts of their uniforms.
“Some of the guys have been in and out of the lineup a little bit, so it hasn’t been the most consistent thing until the playoffs,” Pollard said.
Pollard jokes about the superstitions, but is extremely proud of the way that he and his teammates have stretched the season all the way to the state tournament in Joliet.
“I’d like to think that there’s something to all these superstitions, but I think we’ve run into a little bit of a perfect storm,” he said. “Everybody’s found their role at the right time. We’ve found incredible chemistry throughout this year and it’s still going.”