Big 1st inning, solid pitching propels Highland to season-opening win at Freeburg
A big first inning and some steady pitching from Trent Clemons and Chase Knebel helped drive the Highland baseball team to the winners’ circle Monday, March 20.
HHS struck for five runs in the top of the first and added three runs late as the Bulldogs posted an 8-4 road win over Freeburg at Freeburg High School.
Highland coach Joel Hawkins was thrilled to open the 2023 campaign with a win.
“It’s always hard when you play a team that’s got a couple of games under their belt, and (Freeburg) is a good team and a good place to play, so it was a good night (for us),” said Hawkins, whose team went 25-10 in 2022.
Highland (1-0) got rolling in the opening frame as Jake Ottensmeier led off with a single to center. Brayden Bircher and Knebel then walked to load the bases.
Mason Emig also walked to bring home Ottensemeier, and then Adam Munie struck with the big blow of the inning.
Munie, with two strikes, ripped a two-run double off the base of the left field fence, making it 3-0.
“First at-bat of my varsity career and it felt good (to come through there), to get that going and get the offense sparked a little bit,” Munie said. “It was a two-strike count, so I was looking for a curveball, but they gave me a fastball, and I got a good piece out of it.”
Sacrifice flies by Deklan Riggs and Brendan Gelly plated the final two runs as the Bulldogs went up 5-0.
“The sacrifice flies and the bases on balls and keeping the ball in play, I thought those were the key to keeping that wheel moving in the first inning,” Hawkins said.
HHS scored a run in the top of the second to make it 6-0.
Freeburg got on the board with two runs in the bottom of the second inning which cut the Highland lead to 6-2.
The Midgets pulled closer in the bottom of the third. Carson Ott led off with a double to the left, and then Lane Otten blasted a 1-1 pitch over the left field fence for a two-run homer, shaving the margin to 7-4.
Highland tacked on an insurance tally in the top of the sixth for an 8-4 cushion.
Knebel relieved Clemons in the fourth and the lefthander settled the Bulldogs down, throwing four innings of scoreless relief to silence the Midgets’ bats.
Hawkins was pleased with both pitchers’ work for the day.
“Chase was efficient ... Trent wasn’t quite as efficient, but Trent’s got great stuff and we’re excited to see both of those guys as we get going (with the season),” Hawkins said.
Thoughts from the Freeburg coach
Meanwhile, Freeburg (0-3) is just looking to gain some traction with a young pitching staff after dropping its third straight game to start the season.
“It’s about throwing strikes and making the other team earn their bases and we’re giving way too many free bases and, knock on wood, our defense hasn’t made an error in three games,” said Freeburg coach Drew Gericke, whose team won the IHSA Class 2A state title in 2021 and reached the super-sectional round last season while finishing 24-14. “We’ve got a lot of pitchers that don’t have experience and they’re getting their feet wet, but we’re gonna keep working with them.”
Gericke trusts his club will turn things around as the weather warms up.
“We’ll just keep working on it and I trust them. It’s a long season, three games in of a 35-game schedule” Gericke said.