Highland slips past Smithton in District 22 playoffs

Jimmy Smith lined a one-out single in the seventh inning to score Elliott Prott and give Highland Senior Legion Post 439 a 3-2 win over Smithton on Friday in the American Legion District 22 playoffs.

Scoring single runs in the first and fourth innings, Highland (14-11) led throughout behind the effort of starting pitcher Jake Ramsey, who did not allow a hit through the first six innings.

But down to perhaps its final three outs of the season, Smithton (8-9-1) rallied to tie the game in the seventh. Hunter Borger broke up Ramsey’s no-hit bid, and run-scoring singles by Bobby Tedesco and John Hilpert later in the inning tied the game.

But when Prott opened up the bottom of the seventh inning by coaxing a walk from Smithton starter Dylan Neuner, Highland was in position to win the game.

With Will Greenwald at the plate, Smithton catcher Jordan Fritz attempted to pick Prott off at first base. But Fritz’s throw got past first baseman Jeremy Wade, allowing Prott to advance to third base.

One out later, Smith ended Smithton’s season with his game-winning single.

“I think we’re peaking at the right time. Jimmy (Smith) got the big hit for us, and Jake (Ramsey) was just outstanding tonight. He had a great curve ball,” Highland manager Harry Painter said. “We were trying to get the no-hitter for him, but we won the game. That’s what counts.”

The win also means that both the Metro East Bears and Highland will advance into the Fifth Division Tournament on Monday at Glik Park in Highland. The top-seed Metro East Bears won their first two games in the tournament, including a 2-1 win over Highland on Thursday.

Following the win Friday, Painter contacted Bears manager Ken Schaake, and the two decided not to play the title game — or games — Saturday in Edwardsville since both teams already had automatic bids.

The Bears will enter the tournament as the District 22 champions, and Highland, the defending Fifth Division champions, will receive the automatic bid for hosting the event. The tournament begins Monday and runs through Friday at Glik Park.

The extra day of rest should help Highland, which was pushed to the limit Friday by Smithton.

Highland scored a run in the first inning when Dylan Neuner walked a pair of hitters and plunked Smith to load the bases. Steven Diaz drove in the first run later in the inning with a sacrifice fly.

Sam Green scored Highland’s second run when he led off with a double and scored on a ground out.

But the real story was Ramsey, who despite struggling with his control, was tough for Smithton to solve.

“I reminded the players that we didn’t have any hits. I was trying to fire them up a little bit,” Smithton manager Dean Neuner said. “We fought back in the seventh inning like we have all year.

“What it came down to were the errors we made. You can’t give good teams extra outs in the inning.”