The Highland American Legion Post 439 Junior baseball team was one of only eight teams to qualify for the Junior Legion State Tournament. But unfortunately, Post 439 was the first team to be eliminated after dropping consecutive ballgames on Thursday at Quincy University Stadium.
First on Thursday morning, Highland, which was coached by Rick Diaz, never trailed through the first six innings and snatched a 6-4 lead heading into Quincy Post 37’s final at-bat in the top of the seventh. But Post 439 could not hold its advantage as Quincy rallied for four runs to steal an improbable 8-6 come-from-behind win.
Then on Thursday evening in a game that was delayed an hour and 45 minutes from its previously scheduled 5 p.m. starting time, all the runs were scored in the first two innings, with Highland jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, only to watch Shelby County produce three runs in each of the bottom half of the first and second innings to coast to a 6-2 victory.
Shelby County 6, Highland (Post 439) 2
In an elimination game of the Junior Legion state tournament losers’ bracket, Post 439 jumped on top first with two-run top of the first frame.
Mike McGill got the spurt started with a one-out single to right field. Dillon Hallemann was then hit by a pitch. After the second out, Montana Gilbert singled to load the bases for David Lutostanski, who took advantage of the opportunity by smacking a two-out two-run single.
But Jake Ramsey could not even hold the lead through the home half of the first as Shelby County scored three runs of its own, all with two outs. Nic Hutchinson doubled to center field, then was singled in by Derek Moschenrose. Caleb Hill tripled to plate Moschenrose and Overbeck knocked in Hill with single to cap the rally and give Shelby County the lead for good at 3-2.
Highland looked poised to answer with another big inning of its own in the top half of the first after loading the bases on three consecutive singles from Brett Brown, Nick Schmollinger and Steven Diaz.
However, Shelby had a different idea as the home team on the scoreboard brought its defense in behind pitcher Quinn Martz. His pitch to Mike McGill went right to Josh Overbeck at shortstop, who started a 6-2-3 double play to keep the lead. Martz then induced Hallemann to ground out to second to escape any damage and keep the lead permanently with Shelby County.
From then on, Highland’s offense seemed to fade like the air being let out of a balloon. Post 439 did not get another hit for the rest of the game off Martz or reliever Overbeck, and Shelby County tacked on another three-spot in the home half of the second to cruise to the cozy four-run win to keep its season alive and eliminate Highland.
Post 439 starter Ramsey was tagged for all six runs (all earned) on six hits and one walk with no strikeouts in just 1 1/3 innings.
For Shelby County in the bottom fo the second, Christian Kessler singled with one out in the second to spark the rally. Martz walked to move Kessler into scoring position, where Taylor Coleman singled to drive home Kessler and knock Ramsey out of the game for Highland. Moschenrose came through again, this time with a dboule to left to chase home Martz and Coleman and for the game’s final two runs.
Moschenrose ended up going a perfect 3-for-3 with the double three RBIs, a run scored and a stolen base, while Hutchinson went 2-for-2 with a double, a walk and one run as the duo helped Shelby County outhit Highland 11-6.
Staked to the lead, Martz, reliever Overbeck and the defense cruised through Post 439’s lineup over the final five innings without surrendering a single hit. Martz walked batters in the third and fourth before leaving after five and picking up the win. He gave up six hits and two earned runs while fanning four.
Overbeck came on in the sixth and held Highland’s bats silent, permitting just one walk in his two innings of work.
Hallemann was solid in relief for Post 439, shutting out Shelby County over the final four innings. He ended up being charged with no runs on five hits and one walk to go along with three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings of service.
Quincy (Post 37) 8, Highland (Post 439) 6
Post 439 never trailed through the first six innings and held the lead on four different occasions, the final time at 6-4 heading to Quincy’s last at-bat in the top of the seventh after Highland scored twice in the bottom of the sixth on a single and an error.
But every time Post 439 grabbed the lead, Post 37 always had the answer.
Quincy began the top of the seventh inning trailing 6-4 before Jack Lucey doubled and Drake Green reached on an error to lead off the frame.
Things then took a sudden and confusing turn. Before the first pitch of Derek Green’s at-bat, the home plate umpire called Highland pitcher Mike McGill for a balk. McGill, however, still delivered the pitch and Green walloped it over the left-field fence for a potential game-breaking three-run home run to give Post 37 a 7-6 lead.
There was uncertainty from both sides if the home run counted because the balk call preceded the homer. But the home plate umpire’s home-run signal confirmed the three-run bomb, alghough Post 493 coach Rick Diaz and the players wanted an explanation.
“(The umpire) called a balk and my understanding is that kills the play,” Diaz said. “But he said that wasn’t true. It’s a Major League Baseball rule. To be honest, I’m not really sure of that rule. I’m going to have to look it up. It’s a tough loss. I just tell (my players) you just have to keep playing. It’s just a game. The kids are having fun and I know they’re upset. But it’s just a game.”
Whereas in high school baseball, a balk call is an immediate dead ball and it would have nullified the home run, American Legion State Tournament plays under American League rules — which is also the case in college and Major League Baseball — in which a balk call doesn’t make it an automatic dead ball. Since McGill still threw the pitch, the play becomes a delayed dead ball and the actual play becomes dead after the play finishes.
That meant Green’s home run stood and Quincy suddenly had its first lead and was not about relinquish it.
Post 37 actually extended its advantage to runs at 8-6 on Lane Marlow’s RBI single to score Dax Flowere later in the inning.
Drake Green slammed the door in the bottom of the seventh to preserve the win.
Quincy starter Korbyn Personett struggled early after allowing the first three Post 493 hitters to reach base. A two-run double from Highland starting pitcher Montana Gilbert helped his team grab a 2-0 lead in the home half of the first.
Post 37 tied the game in the top of the second as Personett cranked an RBI triple and then trotted home to score on a throwing error.
Highland also took leads of 3-2 in bottom of the second, 4-3 in the fourth and again at 6-4 in the sixth, only to watch Quincy counter each time. In the top of the fourth, Personett hit a run-scoring single to tie the game at 3-3. He finished the game going 2-for-4 with the triple and a pair of RBIs.
After Quincy tied the game with a single run in the top of the fifth, Post 439 was retired in order in the bottom half.
The game was all deadlocked at 4-4 before Highland rallied for two runs in the home half of the sixth on an RBI single and an error to set the stage for the controversial but correct ruling to end the game.
Highland roughed up Personett a bit while he was on the mound, but that did not stop him from picking up the victory. He tossed six innings and allowed six runs on eight hits and five walks while punching out six.