By J.W. Campbell, Sportswriter
After winning three of four games over a period of five days, the Triad baseball Knights reached the .500 mark for the first time this season. More importantly, two of their recent wins were over Mississippi Valley Conference foes, leaving them in sole possession of first place in the league.
The most recent triumph came on Monday, April 22 when the Knights downed the Highland Bulldogs 9-5 at Triad.
As was the case in most of the Knights’ recent wins, Triad outslugged their opponents, scoring nine runs on 11 hits, including a pair of home runs.
Highland, however, jumped out to an early 2-0 edge. The Bulldogs opened the scoring in the top of the first when Jacob Willis started the game with a base hit to right. He was sacrificed to second by Chase Wilson. On the play, third base was left unmanned, allowing Willis to advance an additional base. He scored on a Triad throwing error.
It became a 2-0 game in the top of the second when Ross Spies led off the inning with a single to right. He was sacrificed to second and moved to third on a wild pitch. The runner scored on an RBI ground out off the bat of Jack Korte.
Triad cut the Highland lead in half in the top of the third when Joe Wade blasted a ball deep over the left field wall to make it a 2-1 contest.
In the Highland fourth, Korte singled home a run for the Bulldogs ahead of an RBI doubled off the bat of Tyler Werner to make it a 4-1 Bulldog advantage.
Triad grabbed the lead with five runs in the bottom of the fourth. Zach Tonn got the rally started with a base hit and moved to second on a Highland error. Drew Parres followed with an infield safety that advanced Tonn to third. After Parres stole second, a wild pitch allowed Tonn to score and put Parres at third. From there, the runner scored on a single to right by Nolan McGowen. With two outs in the inning, Hunter Boyd walked and scored on a home run to left by Caleb Goforth.
“He threw me two curve balls for balls to make it 2-0, so I was expecting a fastball,” Goforth said. “He threw it there and I destroyed it.”
The frame ended with Triad holding a 6-4 edge.
“I like our lineup,” Triad Coach Jesse Bugger said. “It’s long and it gives tough at bats and it has some pop to it. Now, we’re starting to hit like I think we’re capable of. Tonight, we were at home with the wind blowing out, we’re swinging the bats well and they didn’t have an overpowering guy on the mound, so we didn’t worry to much about getting behind early. If we ended up losing the game it would have been because we didn’t hit.”
An RBI single by Kolby Frey in the top of the fifth closed the gap to 6-5, but in the bottom half of the inning, Triad scored three runs with a lot of help from the Bulldogs. They parlayed a single by Tonn and an infield hit by Parres, along with two walks, two wild pitches and two balks into a 9-5 edge, a lead that would hold up.
Chris Bridges threw 2 1/3 innings in relief of McGowen and got the win. Jack Oller hurled a scoreless sixth and seventh inning to earn the save.
Triad pitchers struck out six Highland hitters and walked five. The Bulldogs had five runs on eight hits.
“Our pitching is going to be what it’s going to be this year,” Bugger said. “We are going to ride the hot hand. We can just keep bringing out arms. One thing we do have is depth right now. Jack O. has really been helping us out at the back end of games. We’re going to have several guys ready every night, especially for conference games. We’ll just keep putting guys in there until we collect 21 outs.”
With the win, Triad improves to 5-0 in conference action. Overall, the Knights improve to 10-10. After starting out 1-6, Triad has won nine of its last 13 games.
Triad’s other recent conference win came on Thursday, April 18 against the Mascoutah Indians in Mascoutah. In a slugfest, the Knights outlasted the Indians 13-11.
At the end of five innings, the two teams were tied at 6-6. In the top of the sixth, Triad scored six times before Mascoutah plated five runs in the bottom of the frame. Triad tacked on an insurance run in the seventh to establish the final score.
The Knights had 16 hits in the game, including three home runs, one each by Boyd, Goforth and Wade. All three players had three RBIs in the game. Boyd also had three hits and three runs scored in the contest. Wade was 2-for-5 with two runs scored, while Matt Weis was 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
McGowen had three hits in the game with a run scored and a run batted in.
Jordan Donato was the winning pitcher in the game. He went 2 2/3 innings, allowing no runs on no hits and two walks. He struck out two hitters. Oller worked the final two innings, giving up a walk but no hits or runs. He struck out one batter.
In between conference victories, the Knights split an April 19 doubleheader with the Belleville West Maroons. Triad won the opener 10-5, but lost the nightcap 10-6.