HIGHLAND — A hot-hitting Highland Bulldog baseball team defeated the Marquette Catholic Explorers on Monday in the play-in game of the Class 3A Highland Regional at Glik Park in Highland.
The Bulldogs banged out 12 hits in the 9-1 win and the Explorers failed to capitalize on opportunities, as they stranded eight runners in the contest.
Marquette faced pitcher Griffin Welz, who worked the first six innings for the Bulldogs. The Explorers had six hits against Welz, as Brady McAfee doubled in the fifth and Jayce Maag, Liam Maher, Jacob File, Johnathan Blachford and Konnor Morrissey each had singles.
“They moved the ball,” Marquette coach Tim Fahnestock said. “They got some bunts down. When it came to timely hitting, we just didn’t have it. Timely hitting has been the theme all season long.”
Highland wasted little time in establishing a lead. It pulled ahead 3-0 in the first inning. Mike McGill’s sacrifice fly and Jordan Smith’s one-run single made the score 2-0 Bulldogs. Highland went up 3-0 when Marquette pitcher File hit Bulldogs' batter Chris Dickman with the bases loaded and Andrew Winning came home from third to made the score 3-0.
“These playoff games, they often come down to the top or the bottom of the first,” Highland coach Joel Hawkins said. “The first inning was a big deal tonight…. The first inning is a big deal in these things.”
The Bulldogs continued their offensive onslaught in the second, as Mike McGill’s infield-single drove Brock Troxell home from third to give the Bulldogs a four-run advantage. McGill went 2-for-3 in the contest and had four RBIs. The Explorers showed some life in the third inning when Morrissey’s single into centerfield drove Maher home from second to make the score 4-1.
However, the momentum wouldn’t last, as the Bulldogs scored three more runs in the third. Dickman’s infield single drove Winning home from third to make the score 5-1 and seconds later Welz ran home to score and give Highland a 6-1 advantage. Will Greenwald’s one-run single then made the score 7-1 Bulldogs.
For Marquette, McAfee relieved File on the mound in the bottom of the fourth inning. He turned in two scoreless innings for the Explorers, as Highland stranded one in the fourth and another in the fifth. After those dry innings innings, Highland scored two more runs in the sixth to establish an eight run lead (9-1).
The Bulldogs (18-18) also used speed to their advantage, as they were able to take advantage of infield singles and proved to be able to battle on the base paths. Highland stole nine bases, Greenwald and Troxell each had three.
“We have a couple of guys in our lineup that can run,” Hawkins said. “Tonight, it worked out to our advantage.”
In six innings of action, Welz struck out five batters, walked one and gave up one run. Matt Beyer relived Welz in the seventh inning.
“I knew they were swingers,” Welz said. “I’m not the type of pitcher to blow it by people so I was trying to keep it low and hit my spots. When I did that, everything went well for ground balls and getting pop flies.”
The Bulldogs will take on Freeburg in the next round of the Highland Regional on Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Glik Park. The Explorers drop to 14-15 with the loss. They have to play Nokomis in a yet-to-be scheduled game to determine the co-champion of the Prairie State Conference with East Alton-Wood River. Nokomis is still alive in the 1A playoffs. Nokomis plays Valmeyer in the 1A Carlinville Sectional semifinals at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday at Blackburn College.