The Highland High School softball team was not about to let a key opportunity to control its own fortunes in regards to the winning the Mississippi Valley Conference championship slip through its fingers, as the Bulldogs scored a key 3-1 victory over visiting Waterloo Friday.
Highland is the clear front-runner to win the MVC after improving to 6-2 in the MVC and holding at least a full two-game lead over everybody, with the exception of the Triad Knights, who are an even 3-3 in the league. Highland’s final two conference games are against Triad. Highland only needs to win one of the two to clinch the MVC crown outright.
“We put ourselves in a good position, and like I just told the girls, ‘We now control our own destiny,’ ” said Highland first-year coach Greg Exton, whose team quickly erased a disappointing 3-0 loss at Jerseyville on Wednesday.
HHS (19-8) went on to split a doubleheader with visiting Centralia on a blustery Saturday. The Bulldogs short-gamed the Orphans 13-0 in five innings in the first game before the Orphans turned the tables with a 3-0 win in the second game of the twin bill.
For the postseason, Highland drew the third seed in Sub-Sectional A of the Class 3A Herrin Section and will open the playoffs in the Class 3A Columbia Regional by taking on seventh-seeded Waterloo at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 25. The winner will take on top-seeded Columbia in the regional championship at 11 a.m. on Saturday, May 28.
Highland 3, Waterloo 1
Highland got a pitching gem from sophomore Kirsten Plocher, and fellow sophomore Lauren Baer, a left fielder, provided all the offensive support Plocher would need in a game that lasted just one hour.
“Seriously, I blinked and it was over,” Plocher said about how quick the game was over.
Plocher was a big part of how fast the game flew, as she needed only 85 pitches to throw a complete game. Plocher surrendered just one earned run on five hits while walking none and punching out eight.
Waterloo’s Mallory Meyer also worked quickly, throwing just 62 pitches through her six innings of work. Meyer suffered the defeat after giving up three earned runs on nine hits. Meyer also did not walk a batter.
“I just try to stay ahead in the count and let my defense work,” said Plocher, who boosted her record to an impressive 9-2. “I have been trying to cut back on walks, because they have been getting to where I consider bad for me. I don’t think toward the beginning of the season I was as good as I was last year, but I have been working real hard to get that back.”
The big blow game in the fourth with the game deadlocked at 1-1. Junior Hannah Miener led off by lining a single to left field. Baer followed by yanking a long drive that carried over the fence in right-center field for a game-deciding blow.
“I knew that was a goner as soon as it hit her bat,” Plocher said of Baer’s homer. “That really makes me (exhales a breath of relief). That 1-1 really tightens everybody up and that (homer) really relaxes everybody up a little bit.”
Baer was not near as confident that the ball was going to leave the yard.
“I didn’t think it was going that far,” said Baer, who took the outright team lead with three homers. “I have been in a slump lately so I was just thinking to get a hit, and that first pitch was low and outside so I jumped on it.”
Highland got on the board first in the first as freshman Lily Garbett singled home junior Reily Kassay.
Garbett and Baer each had two hits, with Baer also connecting for a double in the second.
The game was also Senior Day. The 2016 HHS squad has only one senior, Lauren Wright
HHS splits doubleheader with Centralia
In the first game, the Bulldogs used 11 hits, six walks and three Orphan errors to put up huge crooked numbers in the first (five runs) and fourth (seven runs) innings and added a single tally in the second to score a 13-0 victory in 4 1/2 innings.
Gnaedinger was dominant in picking up the win in the circle to climb back over .500 with a 3-2 record. She only threw 52 pitches and permitted just one hit and one walk while striking out four.
Collecting two hits apiece for Highland were junior Peyton Holzinger, junior Jenna Gnaedinger, Wright and Garbett.
Holzinger slugged a three-run double in the five-run first and finished with a game-high four RBIs while also scoring twice.
Gnaedinger doubled and knocked in a pair of runs, while Wright reached base three times (one walk), scored two runs and drove in one, and Garbett also added two runs and one RBI.
Adding one hit each for the Bulldogs were junior Aubrey Hacke (one RBI, one walk, one run), Kassay (one RBI, one walk, one run) and Miener (one walk, two runs).
In the second game, Wright and Plocher did their best to change the outcome but Highland could not muster a single run on the scoreboard and fell in a 3-0 defeat.
Wright had two of the Bulldogs’ four total hits, including a double, and Plocher fired three scoreless innings of relief.
The only other offense for Highland came from Baer (one hit, one walk), junior Megan Frey (one hit) and junior Sierra Huelsmann (one walk).
Sophomore lefty Addison Rinderer was charged with the loss after allowing three earned runs on six hits and two walks in four innings. She struck out two.
Jerseyville 3, Highland 0
The Bulldogs and Panthers matched one another with seven hits apiece, but it was Jerseyville that did more with them at its home field at the Jerseyville American Legion. Three of the Panthers’ hits were doubles, while Highland did not register an extra-base hit.
Both pitchers, Plocher for the Bulldogs and Ashton Tewell for the Panthers, were on their game, as they each scattered seven hits apiece, and there was just one walk combined between them — Tewell walked HHS sophomore Kourtney Zobrist to lead off the top of the third.
The three runs were earned for Plocher,who needed just 67 pitches to complete her six innings of work. She struck out three.
Only four baserunners for Highland advanced into scoring position in the seven frames — just two of them reached as far as third base — against Tewell.
Both pitchers were backed by an error-free defense.
Jerseyville scored the only run it would really need in the fourth. Bethany Muenstermann led off with a double to left and scored on a one-out RBI single to center by Caitlyn Connell.
The Panthers increased their lead with two runs in the fifth. Mackenzie Thursten doubled to center to bring home Ashleigh Trochuck (single), and Tewell followed with a single to left to plate Thursten.
Miener led the Bulldogs with two hits to share game-high honors with Muenstermann.
Zobrist was HHS’ only other player to reach base twice. In addition to her third-inning walk, Zobrist had a one-out single in the fifth but was promptly caught stealing.