After struggling to produce offense and dropping its first two games last week, the Highland Post 439 Senior Legion baseball team woke up out of its offensive slumber to score a 5-0 victory over the host Trenton Gators on Saturday at Trenton City Park.
But Highland fell short again on Monday night, suffering a narrow 3-2 road setback to the host Swansea-Fairview Heights Giants on Moody Field at Longacre Park in Fairview Heights.
Post 439 was in drastic need of a victory after dropping its first two games of the season to two quality opponents. First, on Tuesday of last week, Post 439 was handed a 5-2 season-opening defeat by visiting Twin City Post 1167 at Glik Park. The next night, Highland was dealt a 2-0 loss from the Metro East Bears at Gordon Moore Park in Alton.
Last Friday, Post 439 had a 10-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning at East St. Louis, when the game was canceled due to inclement weather.
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But a quick turnaround with an 11 a.m. starting time at Trenton proved to be beneficial as Highland came out and rolled over the Gators, 5-0.
“Trenton was a big win, and it was good to get that first W,” said Highland coach Harry Painter. “We had sort of an odd lineup because we had some guys out, but it was a good all-around win and hopefully this will get us going now.”
On Monday night in Fairview Heights, Highland was actually the home team, because it was a makeup game. Highland had two runners erased off the base paths due to mistakes, which cost Post 439 key potential scoring chances in what turned out to be a one-run loss at 3-2.
“We have been getting good pitching, but we have had six runners picked off the base paths in four games,” Painter said in what has helped lead to the team’s 1-3 overall record and 0-2 mark in District 22 play. “We know we can play with the good teams. We lost 2-0 at Alton (to the Metro East Bears) 2-0 and 3-2 at (Swansea-) Fairview Heights, and we mad mistakes. I think we can play with just about anybody and beat them, if we clean up our mistakes. “We have also faced some really good pitching.”
Swansea-Fairview Heights 3, Highland 2
Giants right-handed pitcher Miles Brunk threw a complete game, limited Post 439 to one earned run (two overall) and seven scattered hits while walking none and striking out a half dozen.
Brunk, a Webster University recruit, was aided by two costly Highland mistakes on the base paths. Post 439’s Brendan Stanfield, who went 2-for-3 in the game to share the team lead in hits with Will Greenwald (2-for-4), was picked off first base to complete a double play in the second inning, and Zach Chapman was picked off first base after getting a leadoff base hit in the sixth frame.
The loss spoiled a good start by Jordan Smith, who was effective in his summer season debut. Smith held a 2-0 lead after his five innings of work in which he blanked Swansea-Fairview Heights, 10-2-1 at press time, on 82 pitches, yielding just three hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
“In the first inning, Jordan struggled a little, and it worried me a bit, because he faced six batters and threw 22 pitches,” Painter said. “But he definitely settled in after that, and his best pitch was his fastball. He was keeping his fastball down, and it was really working for him and dropping down low. He had a solid knee-high fastball and lower that kept the hitters off balance.”
Highland grabbed the lead by scratching across a single run in each of the fourth and fifth innings.
In the fourth, Greenwald singled and swiped second base. Next, a wild pitch that bounced over the plate got far enough away for the Highland speedster to come all the way around and light the scoreboard with the game’s first run.
In the fifth, Blaine Ray and Griffin Welz set the table with back-to-back singles to lead off the inning. Then after an out, Greenwald smacked an RBI single to score Ray for a 2-0 Highland advantage.
But Sam Greene came in to relieve Smith to open the sixth and could not hold the lead.
The Giants tied the game with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth. After Derrick Rozycke (error), Brady Schanuel (single) and Kyle Boewe (walk) all reached to load the bases, Jackson Penrod hit a sacrifice fly to right to allow Rozycke to tag and score to cut Post 439’s lead in half. Then, Nick Martin bunted to squeeze home Schanuel for the equalizer.
Swansea-Fairview Heights then won the game with a single tally in the seventh as Nick Crabtree drew a leadoff walk, moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on a fielder’s choice. Then with two outs and the bases loaded after consecutive walks to Rozycke and Schanuel, Boewe hit an RBI single to drive in Crabtree as the winning run.
Greene (0-1) was pinned with the loss. The right-hander was touched for two earned runs, three hits, four free passes and no strikeouts in two innings of service.
Highland 5, Trenton 0
After not pitching for a full month, Griffin Welz made his summer season debut a good and memorable one, going the distance and blanking the Trenton Gators on five hits. He walked none and punched out eight to record the team’s first win.
“Welz had good control and threw strikes. He had not pitched in a long time after he got knocked around a little bit and gave up four doubles,” Painter said of Welz’s last start of the season for Highland High School when he gave up four earned runs without recording an out in a 10-0 loss to Freeburg on May 25. “Austin Brown did an outstanding job calling the game, and they worked well together as a battery. Austin had Griffin mix up his pitches. Griffin’s biggest asset was his curveball. It was really biting and really biting well.”
Welz also led Post 439’s attack at the dish, going 2-for-3 with a pair of singles and one run scored.
Earning one hit each for Highland were Blaine Ray, Brendan Stanfield, Sam Greene, Jimmie Smith, Zach Chapman and Matt Augustin, who played second base instead of donning his typical catching garb.
Post 439 pushed across a pair of runs in the second inning for the only tallies it really needed. Winning and Greene set the table with back-to-back walks. Then after after the first out was recorded, Chapman delivered a clutch hit and the game’s biggest blow when he lined a two-run single to right-center field that chased home both Winning and Greene.
In the third frame, Welz led off with a line-drive base hit to left field and Smith followed with a walk. It was Ray who came through this time as he hit an RBI single off the pitcher to knock in Welz and extend Highland’s lead to 3-0. Ray later scored on a passed ball to bury the Gators in a four-run hole.
Post 439 tacked on its final run in its last at-bat when Smith singled with two outs, stole second and came around to score when Ray reached on an error.
Metro East Bears 2, Highland 0
In what was a classic pitcher’s duel, Metro East Bears’ players Jacob St. Peters and Maverick McSparin combined their efforts in a winning way.
St. Peters provided the bulk of the shutdown pitching and McSparin did the hitting as the Bears (12-3) shut out Highland on two hits in an American Senior Legion District 22 baseball game at Gordon Moore Park in Alton.
Highland’s two pitchers, Brandon Camp and Greene, also only surrendered two hits, but Camp issued three free passes and hit batters which helped result in the two earned runs being scored, one in the first and the other in the third to account for the difference between the two teams in the final score.
St. Peters (3-0) worked the first five innings and yielded just the two hits while striking out five. Connor Melton threw a perfect sixth. Aaron Jackson followed him by pitching a perfect seventh.
Brendan Stanfield singled in the second and fourth innings to represent Highland’s only hits.
Offensively for the Metro East Bears, McSparin supplied a run-scoring single in the first and then singled and scored in the third. McSparin, the Bears’ No. 3 hitter in the lineup, went 2-for-3 to account for both of of his team’s hits.
St. Peters did the bulk of the pitching against Highland. The visitors never got more than one runner on base in any inning and did not record a hit after the fourth inning.
McSparin’s first-inning single drove home Drake Hampton, who coaxed a leadoff walk and advanced to second in a wild pitch.
Then in the third, McSparin singled, advanced to second on a passed ball and then moved over to third on a wild pitch. He scored on another wild pitcher from Highland starter Camp.
Camp worked the first four frames for Post 439, allowing the two earned runs on two hits and three walks with no strikeouts. Greene tossed two scoreless innings as he only gave up one walk and no hits while working the fifth and sixth frames.
“They (Bears) had a lot of chances the first three innings and I do believe we were fortunate just to be trailing 2-0,” Painter said. “Their starting pitcher was very good, and he had a good knuckle curve working.”
Twin City 5, Highland 2
In what was a nine-inning, non-district affair, Twin City pitcher Nelson Martz did the lion’s share of the work. He lasted eight innings, fanned nine, walked only one and scattered six hits.
Twin City, the independent South Roxana Post 1167 team which has started the season with an impressive 14-1 record, plated five runs on seven hits, led by Blake Marks’ 3-for-4 night that included an RBI and a steal of home plate.
Highland led 1-0 after two innings, but Post 439 could not sustain it after mustering just one more single tally in the eighth.
Twin City finally broke through with its first run in the fourth. Post 1167 erupted for three key tallies in the fifth before scratching a final tally across in the ninth and cruising in with the three-run victory.
Painter credited Martz, a Roxana graduate, for giving Post 439 fits. Martz recently finished his freshman year at Lewis and Clark Community College, and he showed the poise and experience of a college pitcher.
However, Painter said it was more than just that.
“It’s not just more experience, he’s got a little more smoke on the ball and more endurance,” Painter said. “He was still throwing the ball hard at the end of the game. He’s a quality pitcher, and these (Highland) guys had a great year, as you know, but now they’re up facing some college kids, and it’s going to be like that all year. I’m sure people are going to want to come after us, being state champs in high school.”
Highland christened the scoreboard in the second inning when Brendan Stanfield picked up a one-out hit — the first of the game for either side — and moved around to third on Jordan Smith’s ensuing single. Stanfield motored home on a passed ball to stake Post 439 to a 1-0 lead.
Highland’s Matt Beyer kept Post 1167 off balance until the fourth inning. Blake Vandiver hit a leadoff single to center field, stole second base and advanced to third when Randy Skiff reached on a fielder’s choice.
Vandiver raced home to tie the game at 1-1 when Martz reached on another fielder’s choice that Highland botched for an error while trying in vain to force out Skiff.
Twin City blew the game open in the fifth inning with a three-run uprising.
Andrew Fry reached on an error, Marks singled and Josh Rudd had a base hit to right to score Fry. With Rudd and Marks on the corners, Post 1167 pulled off a successful delayed double steal. Highland tried to fire it back home to get Marks, but it was too late, and Twin City went up 3-1. Skiff’s two-out single chased home Rudd to cap off the rally and increase Post 1167’s advantage to 4-1.
Highland scratched across a run in the eighth to cut the three-run deficit to 4-2. Will Greenwald singled and swiped second base and Cody Bertlage laced a one-out RBI single to drive Greenwald home. Bentalge led Post 439 with a pair of hits.
But Twin City was not quite done. Spencer Heinemann reached on Highland’s fourth error of the game to lead off the ninth. Fry sacrificed Heinemann to second and Marks punched his third hit of the game through the left side of the infield to plate Heinemann and make it 5-2.
Logan Reardon closed out the win for Twin City in the bottom of the ninth. Reardon sat down Post 439 in order with a groundout, a strikeout and a flyout to earn the save.
Four errors definitely hurt Highland, according to Painter. Beyer pitched the first five innings and gave up only two earned runs (four overall) on four hits and on walks while whiffing three batters. Zach Chapman, a left-hander, replaced Beyer in the sixth and tossed the final four frames, allowing only one unearned run, three hits and one walk while also fanning three.