The Highland softball Bulldogs ran its winning streak to four games, including scoring come-from-behind victories over Dupo, 8-2 on Friday, and Chatham Glenwood, 3-2 on Saturday morning, to reach the championship game of the Triad Invitational Saturday afternoon at Triad High School.
Then in the time-shortened title game that lasted six innings, Highland and the Columbia Eagles, two of the Metro East’s top Class 3A teams, squared off.
Highland (17-6) almost came all the way back from an injury and a late three-run deficit, but the tying run was gunned down at home plate to end the game in a 6-5 loss to Columbia.
With a 3-0 lead, junior left-handed ace Aubrey Hacke twisted her ankle while throwing a pitch and stepping in a hole near the landing area of the circle. The injury was to the same foot and ankle that has bothered her in the past.
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With Hacke out, the Eagles (20-3) erased the deficit and rallied to take the lead after pushing across four runs. Only one of the runs in the frame was charged to Hacke. The other three runs in the frame that gave Columbia the lead for good were charged to junior Jenna Gnaedinger in just 2/3 of an inning. The loss dropped Gnaedinger’s record to an even 2-2.
Hacke was able to return in the fourth.
A dual threat, Hacke went 3-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored to raise her bating average to .472, which is just behind freshman shortstop Lily Garbett’s team-leading .475 and just ahead of senior center fielder Lauren Wright’s .466.
“She’s a gamer,” Highland first-year coach Greg Exton said of Hacke. “She had to come out, but she felt better and wanted to get back in there.”
Columbia’s four-run rally in the third was keyed by a two-run double by Lexi Touchette off the fence in left field off Gnaedinger.
The Eagles added two insurance runs in the top of the sixth off Hacke on RBI singles from Kalli Farmer and Touchette.
The Bulldogs were far from done as Hacke singled to center field with two outs to knock in junior third baseman Reily Kassay (leadoff single) to bring Highland within 6-4.
Then with runners at the corners with Wright (walk) at third and Hacke on first, freshman shortstop Lily Garbett hit a double to the gap in right field. Wright scored easily, but sophomore Kourtney Zobrist, courtesy running for Hacke, was cut down at home plate on a perfect relay throw from right fielder Britney Edwards to shortstop Courtney Weilbacher and on to Farmer, who tagged Zobrist out to end the game and preserve the one-run win for Columbia.
“With two outs you have to push the issue a little bit,” Exton said. “I knew it was a risk, but if that throw is a little off-line it’s a tie ball game and we’re still swinging the bats.”
Senior Brina Rujawitz picked up the win for the Eagles.
Highland took a 3-0 lead after scoring one run in the first and two tallies in the second. In the first, Hacke doubled with one out and Zobrist, her courtesy runner, scored on an error with two outs. In the second, Wright doubled home sophomore right fielder Addison Rinderer (single) and Hacke singled in Wright.
Wright and Rinderer each supplied two hits for the Bulldogs.
To reach the championship game, Highland edged Glenwood 3-2 in eight innings and Columbia beat Triad 11-6 in the other semifinal.
Glenwood blasted host Triad 13-3 in the third-place game, while Dupo pounded Murphysboro 15-1 in the fifth-place contest.
Highland 3, Chatham Glenwood 2 (8 innings)
In a good, old-fashion pitcher’s duel in the tourney’s semifinal earlier on Saturday, Highland trailed 1-0 heading into its final at-bat after the Titans finally christened the scoreboard with a single run in the fourth on an RBI single by Carolyn Franke.
But with a loss looming as the Bulldogs were down to their final out, junior second baseman Peyton Holzinger smacked the second pitch she saw for a two-out single to drive in the equalizer.
The international tiebreaker was instituted in the eighth inning, which means each team opens the inning with a runner at second base. Katelyn Brown started at second for Glenwood and ended up scoring on a Highland error.
But the Bulldogs had the game-winning answer with a two-run home half of the eighth. Sophomore left fielder Lauren Baer coaxed a bases-loaded walk to force home Rinderer with the tying run and junior first baseman Hannah Miener pulled a single to left to drive home Wright (walk) with the walk-off winning run.
Junior right-handed ace Kirsten Plocher fired a gem to propel her record to a nearly flawless 8-1. Plocher went the distance and surrendered just four hits and one walk while punching out six.
Highland 8, Dupo 2
An impressive two-way performance from Hacke led the Bulldogs to the come-from-behind triumph in the tourney opener on Friday where HHS ironically was the road team on its own field.
Highland trailed 2-0 after being no-hit through five innings by Dupo right-hander Jeffica Stansch. And the Bulldogs were quite possibly facing their last at-bat when they came to bat in the top of the sixth with only 21 minutes remaining in the one hour and half time limit.
But if there were any nerves, it certainly was not evident as Highland bats caught fire to rally for a game-clinching eight runs on seven hits (four for extra bases), one walk and one error.
The pressure was lifted within two hitters as Wright drew a leadoff walk and Hacke, a left-handed hitter, followed by crushing a 1-0 pitch for a towering drive that sailed over the 220-foot sign in right-center field for a two-run home run.
“I wasn’t looking to hit a bomb, I was just looking to advance the runner and start a rally, but it felt good off the bat,” Hacke said. “I knew it was high and I was just happy it was in the gap so I knew it was getting down. I kind of got the inside pitch and that is my sweet spot.”
The onslaught was on from there as Highland got an RBI triple from sophomore left fielder Lauren Baer, an RBI single from Holzinger, a two-run single from Gnaedinger, an RBI double from Wright, who then scored the game’s final run on an error to cap off the eight-run explosion.
Hacke then went back to the circle and retired Dupo in order to end the game and lift her record to 5-3 on the year.
Hacke gave up just two earned runs on five hits and one walk while striking out four in the six innings.
“I had my changeup today and that was a life saver because it kept them off-balance,” Hacke said.
Highland 10, Metro-East Lutheran 0 (6 innings)
On Thursday, the Bulldogs jumped all over the Knights early and often, scoring at least a run in all six at-bats, including putting up a three-spot in each of the third and sixth innings, to end the game an inning early due to the 10-run mercy rule.
Highland racked up 16 hits, seven of them for extra bases.
Rinderer made her second start of the season a good one as she used her screwball and fastball to blank Metro on four hits and one base on balls while punching out six in going the six-inning distance. Rinderer (2-0) has only allowed one earned run in 11 total frames to drop her ERA to a microscopic 0.64.
Highland easily handled Knight pitching as six hitters combined for 14 hits. Garbett went 3-for-3 with a double, two RBIs and two runs scored and Zobrist was 3-for-4 with a pair of RBIs.
Providing two hits apiece were Holzinger (two doubles), Kassay (one triple, one double), Hacke (one double) and Wright.
In addition, Miener added a two-run double and finished with a game-best three RBIs, while Holzinger, Kassay and Jill Garbett (single) each had one RBI.
Highland 13, Civic Memorial 3 (6 innings)
Last Wednesday, the Bulldogs banged out 15 hits and scored in five of six innings, highlighted by a six-run outburst in the second. Highland also scored two runs in each of the first, third and sixth and had one tally in the fourth.
With 10 runs in the first three innings, Highland left no doubt about the eventual outcome and took over the outright lead in the Mississippi Valley Conference at 5-1.
Wright, Hacke and Miener led the onslaught. Wright had a game-high three hits to go with a double, one walk and three runs scored, while Hacke racked up three RBIs and three runs scored on two hits, including a triple, and Miener had two hits and two RBIs.
Plocher got the win for the Bulldogs after punching out eight and allowing just two earned runs (three overall), three hits and two walks in six innings.
Garbett and Rinderer each supplied one hit and two RBIs. Rinderer’s two-run single in the sixth ended the game.