One of the best seasons in Highland baseball history came to an end on Sunday, when the Scots were topped by Hamilton Badin in the Division II regional finals.
Mistakes proved crucial for the Scots in suffering a 12-3 loss to the Rams at Mason High School that ended their season with a 29-3 record — which broke the team’s previous record of 26 wins set in their Final Four year of 2006. Highland committed four errors in the contest and also gave their opponents a number of free base-runners via walks.
“Obviously, the truth is that’s a good team,” said Highland coach Don Kline. “Possibly the best we’ve seen all year. They’re well-coached and have good athletes at every position. When we filled in the blanks as to how Highland wins, it comes down to no walks and limiting errors. They kind of blitzkrieg’d us and had five runs after two innings and eight after three.”
Playing as the visiting team, Badin took advantage of Highland miscues, getting three first-inning runs on two hits, a pair of walks, a hit batter and a Scot error. Unfortunately for Highland, that inning would not be an anomaly on that day.
In the bottom of the inning, Highland immediately got to Ram pitcher Nik Copenhaver, as Rider Minnick drew a walk and Randy Cain cracked a single. A wild pitch by Copenhaver put runners on the corners with nobody out, but he would settle down to strike out two Scot batters and elicit a pop ball to get out of the inning unscathed.
Highland pitcher Blake Jodrey got two quick outs in the second inning, but then gave up a pair of runs on two hits, a walk and Scot error to find himself in a 5-0 hole.
The Scots would get on the board in their half of the inning. Jon Jensen draw a walk to open the frame. Then, with two outs, he would be driven home by a hard-hit double by Cooper Merckling to cut the Badin lead to 5-1.
Badin would widen that margin in the third, however. Brady Imhoff opened with a double and was brought home on a hit by Lucas Moore. With two outs, Sergio DeCello then deposited a pitch on the other side of the fence for a two-run home run and Highland found themselves in an 8-1 hole.
When asked if he’d have done anything differently, Kline immediately pointed out DeCello’s home run.
“We should not have pitched to Sergio,” he said. “We had an open bag and pitched to him and he put it over the fence.”
After stranding a pair of base-runners in the third inning, Highland got back into business in the fourth. After Jodrey pitched a perfect top of the frame, the team immediately got singles by K.J. Johnson and Brock Church. With one out, Minnick drove in Johnson with a single to make the score 8-2. After Cain drew a walk to the load the bases, the Rams made a pitching change, bringing Lucas Moore to the mound.
Two batters later and the inning was over with no further damage done. Kline noted that his team had many opportunities to score, but struggled to close the gap.
“A game like this, you want to chip away,” he said. “Against a team like Badin, you’re not going to have a big inning. They were aggressive and used their athleticism against us.”
Highland would get another run in the bottom of the fifth when Church singled in Jensen to make it 8-3. However, Badin struck for four in the top of the sixth, with Ryan Kirkendall blasting a three-run homer to help his team widen their advantage to nine runs.
Kline felt his team has nothing to be ashamed of, citing their season-long run of good games.
“What a journey,” he said. “What a great chapter in Highland history. When the dust settles, they’ll be more impressed than what they are now.”
The coach is hoping to continue that success next year, but notes that the 2022 team will need to develop the same mentality that this year’s squad possessed.
“We do have a lot of guys coming back,” he said. “The key is, ‘Did they learn enough?’ It comes down to a bunch of guys saying, ‘I want to play for my brother.’”
To reach the game with Badin, the Scots claimed a 9-3 win over Dayton Carroll, also at Mason, on Saturday.
Highland tallied eight hits in the game and took advantage of four errors by their opponents, while getting strong pitching from Wyatt Groves, Logan Shaffer and Tyler Disbennett, who combined to strike out seven with Groves earning the decision.
The game was scoreless until the third inning, when Highland erupted for five runs.
Church and Minnick opened the scoring when a Luke Cain ground ball was misplayed by the Patriots. Three consecutive bases-loaded walks issued to Jensen, Johnson and Church brought in three more runs to stake the Scots to a commanding lead.
Carroll picked up a pair of runs in their half of the inning, but an error in the top of the fourth brought home Minnick to give Highland a 6-2 lead. A fifth-inning run made it 6-3, but the Scots put the game out of reach with a two-run sixth when Zach Pinkerton drove in two with a double. They added an insurance run in the seventh when Johnson deposited a Carroll pitch outside of the park.