By J.W. Campbell, Sportswriter
The 2019 Triad baseball season came to a end on Thursday, May 23 when the Knights dropped a third game of the year to the Highland Bulldogs.
The latest setback, a 7-2 verdict against their arch rivals, came in a semifinal game of the Triad regional.
The win propelled Highland into the regional championship game against Mascoutah on Saturday, May 25.
Triad ended the year with a 13-23 record.
Highland staged what proved to be the winning rally in the top of the third inning when they collected four runs on four hits. The key blow in the frame was a bases-loaded double to right field by Ross Spies that scored two runners. Aboard at the time of the double were Jacob Willis, Chase Wilson and Kolby Frey, all of whom reached on a single. After Willis and Wilson scored on the Spies double, Frey scored on a passed ball and Spies trotted home on a wild pitch.
Triad cut into the Highland lead with a run in the bottom of the third. Drew Parres led off the inning with an infield hit. He moved to second on a base hit by Caleb Goforth and scored on a single to center by Ethan Gratton.
It remained a 4-1 game until the top of the sixth when Highland plated its final three runs. The inning start with back-to-back walks to Spies and Carter Wiegmann. After Spies was forced out at third on a fielder’s choice, Kyle Schlater drove a double down the left-field line that scored one run and left runners at second and third. The lead runner scored on a ground out by Tyler Werner, while a wild pitch allowed Schlater to score.
Triad’s Evan Anderson completed the game’s scoring with a long, towering home run over the right field fence in the bottom of the sixth.
While losing by five runs, the outcome could have been worse for the Knights if not for some key defensive plays. In the top of the first, Zach Tonn robbed Willis of a hit with a diving stop and strong throw to first from his position at third. Highland loaded the bases with no one out in the top of the second but was unable to score. After three consecutive walks filled the bases, Gratton, the Triad second baseman, grabbed a line drive off the bat of Jack Korte and turned into a 5-4 double play after the runner at second strayed too far off the bag.
The following inning, the Knights turned a third to second to first double play to end the frame. In the fifth, Triad catcher Matt Weis gunned out Wilson on an attempted steal of second. Then in the seventh, Gratton made a diving stop on a ball hit by Wiegman into the second-base hole. He was able to scramble to his feet and throw out the batter at first.
Triad outhit the Bulldogs 10-8, but Knight pitchers issued seven walks.
“Our game plan has always been to force them to hit,” Triad Coach Jesse Bugger said. “They try to manufacture runs without getting hits. It seems like five of the seven runners that scored for them reached on free passes.
In addition to his pitchers’ inability to throw strikes, Bugger cited some bad at bats as a contributing factor to his team’s loss.
“We did not string our hits together very well,” he said. “We did not take the toughest at bats at times. We struck out an awful lot. Overall, it was a failure to adjust. We just didn’t play very well.”
Jack Oller took the loss on the mound for the Knights. He went 2 1/3 innings, allowing four runs on four hits and four walks. Oller did not strike out a batter.
Drew Straub and Nolan McGowan both pitched in relief for the Knights. Straub gave up one earned run in 2 2/3 innings of work. He struck out two hitters and walked three.
McGowan was touched for two runs in two innings on the mound. He fanned two and did not walk a batter.
The winning pitcher for Highland was Frey. He lasted 5 1/3 innings, giving up one run on nine hits. He fanned nine Triad hitters.
Tyler Werner finished the game for the Bulldogs. He surrendered one run on one hit and a walk.
Triad’s leading hitters were Parres, Anderson Gratton and Goforth. Parres went 3-for-3 with a walk and a run scored. Anderson had two hits, a run batted in and a run scored. Gratton had an RBI
single, while Goforth reached base twice with a pair of singles.
McGowen and Tonn each had a single in the game.
Willis and Frey each had two hits for the Bulldogs.
In their two previous meeting, the Knights dropped a 9-5 contest to the Bulldogs at Triad on April 22. The Mississippi Conference rematch came on May 8 when Triad fell to Highland 3-0 in Highland.