HIGHLAND — They find themselves in an unenviable position for the American Senior Legion District 22 baseball playoffs.
The Metro East Bears are backed against the wall.
Highland defeated them, 6-2, on Thursday night at Glik Park to push the Bears to the brink of elimination in the week-long tournament. Metro East, 16-5 overall, is 1-1 in the double-elimination affair and welcomes 13-15 Belleville at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Hoppe Park.
The losing team gets ousted, while the winner goes to Highland on Saturday afternoon for one — or possibly two games. Highland, 13-7 overall, is 1-0 in the district playoffs and needs just one victory to advance into next week’s Fifth Division tourney at West Frankfort.
Post 199/126, meanwhile, needs three wins in two days to snare the district playoff title.
“We didn’t pitch a good game and did a lot of stupid things on the bases,” Bears’ manager Ken Schaake said. “There’s not much you can say about the game, but our team didn’t quit.”
Metro East lost four base runners and starting pitcher Brandon Hampton (6-1) lasted only 1.1 innings in absorbing the loss. He allowed three hits, three walks and three runs.
Jacob St. Peters followed Hampton and was equally ineffective. He gave up 2 hits, a walk and 3 runs in 0.2 innings. Highland built a 6-1 lead by the third inning and never looked back in the slow-moving game. It started an hour late because of a lightning delay.
“It was an excellent win for us and it puts us in a nice position for this weekend,” Highland manager Harry Painter said. Metro East downed Highland twice during the regular season, but not the third time.
Painter added, “It’s a tough to beat somebody three times and they (Bears) have some excellent players.”
Staunton High product Blaine Ray gave Highland a shot of excellence. Ray, the No. 9 hitters in the lineup, went 2-for-4 with a two-run single in the second and two-run double in the third.
“Blaine had a super game with two line-drive hits and he played well defensively,” Painter said. “He played for us last year and was our No. 3 hitter, but we moved him to the No. 9 hole and he’s hitting over .600. It’s like having another leadoff hitter at the bottom of the order. He has been great for us.”
Teammate Cody Bentlage, the leadoff hitter, went 2-for-3 with a double and drove in 2 runs. Austin Guswelle went 2-for-3 and reached base 4 times as Highland made the most of 9 hits.
Winning pitcher Mike McGill gave up 5 hits, 5 walks and a run in 7.1 innings. Robert Ramsey finished up, though the Bears scored one in the ninth against him and left two runners on base. They stranded eight overall and didn’t take full advantage of eight walks.
Jake Garella was 2-for-4 with a double and run-scoring single. The other run scored on a wild pitch. Cole Cimarolli was 2-for-4 with a double and reached base 3 times. Steven Pattan went 1-for-3 and got on base 3 times.
Storm Coffman (four innings) and Jordan Yenne (two innings) followed Brandon Hampton and St. Peters to the mound.
“I thought we did a good job facing all four of their pitchers,” Painter said. “And Michael McGill was outstanding pitching for us. He was able to pitch out of some jams.”
The Bears must work their way out a jam this weekend. They bombed Belleville, 9-2, in their playoff opener Tuesday, but Highland is sitting in the district driver’s seat.
“We made some mistakes in this game that we don’t usually make,” Schaake said. “Now, all we are thinking about is winning tomorrow (Friday) and continuing to play.”
He said Metro East has Maverick McSparin, Devin Colley, Drake Hampton, Chance Foss and possibly first-game winner Garella available the next two days. Top-seeded Highland is idle Friday and cast at home for Saturday’s final game or doubleheader.
DISTRICT 22 PLAYOFFS
HIGHLAND 6, METRO EAST BEARS 2
Metro East 001 000 001—2 5 1
Highland 033 000 00X – 6 9 0
Metro East Bears (16-5) – Cole Cimarolli 2-4 2B, Jake Garella 2-4 2B RBI, Steven Pattan 1-2. LP – Brandon Hampton IP – 1.1 H-3 R-3 ER-3 BB-3 K-2; Jake St. Peters IP-.2 H-2 R-3 ER-3 BB-1 K-1; Storm Coffman IP-4 H-3 R-0 BB-0 K-2; Jordan Yenne IP-2 H-1 R-0 BB-1 K-3.
Highland (13-7) – Cody Bentlage 2-3 2B RBI-2, Austin Guswelle 2-3, Dillon Hallemann 1-4, Chris Dickman 1-3, William Greenwald 1-2, Blaine Ray 2-4 2B RBI-4. WP – Mike McGill IP-7.1 H-5 R-1 ER-1 BB-5 K-1; Robert Ramsey IP-1.2 H-0 R-1 ER-1 BB-3 K-1