The Highland High baseball team held what appeared to be a comfortable four-run lead over Freeburg with only eight outs to go. But the Bulldogs imploded in the worst way, allowing the Midgets to rally for a giant eight-run uprising and hand HHS a deflating 8-6 season-ending loss in a semifinal of the Class 3A Highland Regional.
Highland’s season came to a screeching halt with an 18-19 record while Freeburg (23-8) advances to Saturday’s scheduled regional championship game, where the Midgets will face Triad. The Knights (12-23), who went 0-10 in the Mississippi Valley Conference) rallied for an eight-run inning of its own to springboard them to an unlikely 13-5 win over Jerseyville (20-11, 8-2 MVC) and earn an even more unlikely berth in the title game.
Highland, which was actually the visiting team in its own ballpark at Glik Park, pushed across two runs in each of the third and fifth innings to carry a cozy 4-0 lead into the bottom of the fifth. Seniors Mike McGill and Jordan Smith led the offense with two hits apiece.
In the third, Winning socked his two-run double to left field to chase home sophomore Brock Troxell (single) and senior Mike McGill (walk). A downside was that Winning was gunned down trying to stretch it to third base.
In the fifth, senior Austin Brown led off with a double, was sacrificed to third by senior Will Greenwald, and scored on Troxell’s RBI ground ball to third that was mishandled for an error. Two hitters later, Smith pulled an RBI single to left to score Troxell and put the Midgets in the four-run hole.
Through the first 4 2/3 innings, McGill, HHS’ starter, had pretty much been on cruise control with two hits and two free passes allowed.
A leadoff single in the bottom half of the fifth looked harmless after McGill easily retired the next two batters
However, Freeburg was just getting started.
A walk and an error helped ignite the explosion. Tyler Dill made them pay off by lining a two-run single to left to instantly chop the Bulldogs’ lead in half at 4-2.
After Keegan Baxmeyer walked to reload the bases, Highland’s Hall of Fame baseball coach Joel Hawkins lifted McGill in favor of fellow senior right-hander Jordan Smith.
But the move did not go as planned or hoped. In addition, the defense did not do any favors with two expensive errors.
Smith started by issuing a free pass to Jack Lugge to force in a run and HHS’ margin was cut to one. Another error, this time on a pop fly that should have ended the inning with the Bulldogs still clinging to a one-run lead, but instead allowed the game-tying run to cross home plate.
Then Braeden Chandler, who led off the inning with a single and came around to score the Midgets’ first run, hit his second single of the frame to knock in the go-ahead run.
Pinch hitter Brennan Dermody then took full advantage of his one plate appearance, belting a three-run triple to cap off the huge eruption and double up HHS on the scoreboard at 8-4.
The Bulldogs staged a rally of their own in the seventh but it was not quite enough. Senior Chris Dickman drew a leadoff walk and sophomore Brock Troxell coaxed a two-out walk. McGill slugged a double to left to chase both Dickman and Troxell home and bring the tying run to the plate.
However, Freeburg lefty Elias Czech got Smith to fly out to center to end the game and earn the win out of the bullpen for the Midgets. Czech yielded two earned runs on two hits and two walks in three innings of relief.
Czech also earned the win in a 3-0 victory over Highland in the Bulldogs’ season opener back on March 21.