It wasn’t easy, but the Highland baseball team was able to advance through sectionals to districts, while also setting a program record for wins in a season with their 25th.
On Thursday, the Scots hosted River Valley with a sectional championship on the line. While they won 3-1, Highland trailed for most of the game, only taking the lead in the sixth inning, when they tallied three runs.
“It’s one of those things where we didn’t know what we had at the beginning of the year,” said head coach Don Kline of his team’s success. “During the offseason, we spent a lot of time on basics and fundamentals and I think that really helped us. We wanted to play better each game and each week and then we said ‘We have a lot of wins.’”
For much of the game, it looked like that success might not include a postseason run. Scot starter Blake Jodrey had a bit of trouble in the first inning. He opened the game by walking Joey Dranschak, who would then steal second and score on a two-out single by Riley Gerfen.
While Highland only trailed by a 1-0 count, River Valley starter Ben Mayse made it seem like a larger deficit, as he kept the Scot bats off guard for much of the game. Over the first five innings, he recorded 10 ground ball outs and kept Highland from putting together good swings.
“We actually watched the video of Fredericktown versus River Valley and saw the same thing,” he said. “Gotta tip our hat to #11.”
While Highland was able to get runners on base in four of the first five innings, they couldn’t get anything going until their were two outs and then they couldn’t string together enough good plate appearances in a row to bring any of their base-runners home.
“It seems the entire game we had two-out runners,” said Kline. “We finally got a couple guys to be patient and they advanced on a passed ball that wasn’t a sure thing.”
That happened in the sixth inning. After Mayse retired the lead-off hitter, Dom Carter drew a walk and Zach Pinkerton followed with a single to put runners on first and second. That passed ball allowed both runners to advance into scoring position.
Jon Jensen then executed a bunt to bring pinch-runner Adi Karya home and, when the Viking catcher couldn’t connect with the first baseman in an attempt to retire Jensen, Pinkerton also scored to give the Scots their first lead.
K.J. Johnson followed with a triple that caused RV to make a pitching change to Gerfen. However, before he could get out of the inning, Brock Church delivered an RBI single to make the score 3-1.
That was all Jodrey needed. After the first inning, he only allowed one Viking to even reach second base in a game that saw him strike out four, walk two and scatter four hits.
“Blake is one of our four horsemen,” said Kline. “One thing we preach is that if we allow a lead-off walk, he’ll score a lot of the time. Playoff games are fun games. I think our guys were a little tight. We kept telling them to have fun.”
Now Kline is hoping the fun will continue through the district rounds. Due to new rules for this year, they will host Tuesday’s district semifinal against Bishop Hartley and, if they win that contest, they’ll also host the district final contest.
“COVID made this year unique for a lot of reasons,” said the coach. “A lot of things changed. One is the district semis and finals are at the higher seed. It gives us the chance to show off our facilities and campus and, hopefully, play good baseball at home.”
Rob Hamilton can be reached at 419-946-3010, ext. 1807. Connect with him on Twitter at @SportsMCS