Hillsboro, a South Central Conference team, traveled to Kinmundy to play South Central High School, an IA consolidated school with students attending from Alma, Kinmundy, and Farina, all of whom had strong athletic traditions before the consolidation. Neither team could have predicted the outcome, nor the surprising twists and turns the game took, before Hillsboro won 19-13.
The Cougars' field was a pleasant discovery. Lions Field is nestled in a curve of IL Rt. 37 in Kinmundy; it is relatively small (300 feet down the lines, 350 feet to deep center, with woods beyond the right field fence and a short backstop with wooden stands and a press box), it is Americana at its best. The scoreboard in left center was modern, with easy to read ball and strike numbers and the pitch count for the pitcher on the mound in easy view of the coaches. (That's important in today's game as those numbers have to be submitted to the IHSA for every pitcher in every game). The grounds were clean, the restrooms (at least the men's) immaculate, the concession food good, the quartet of girls who sang the national anthem blended well, and the young girls' teams evidently scheduled to play next were relatively patient as they waited for the high school game to end so they could reset the bases to play their lime green versus the tie-dyed shirts game could begin. Even the dogs were well-behaved on their leashes.
The young ladies had to wait longer than they anticipated -- long enough for the Toppers to score 15 runs in the top of the seventh and the Cougars to score eight after nine runs were scored in the first six innings. South Central slowly built their 5-4 lead; it disappeared with one swing of Griffin King's bat.
Kaden Lemon opened the scoring in the first, drawing a walk to start the action. He moved to third as King and Jordan Gregg walked (Landon Carroll deserved a hit as the second batter, but the host's center fielder made a shoe-top catch of Carroll's well-struck drive). Lemon scampered home as the pitcher's pick-off throw to third eluded the third-baseman (despite how sharply the Cougars executed their pre-game infield practice, they committed seven errors in the game, most of them in the fateful seventh).
The Toppers started lanky sophomore Hayden Grosenheider as their pitcher, and a walk to Chase Dodson and a double by Hunter Brandt tied the score. In the second the Cougars went ahead as Logan Lotz singled and worked his way around to score; catcher Jace Tuetken, who would later pitch innings four and five, helped end the inning by throwing out Daniel Roberts trying to steal third. Roberts had been hit by a pitch, as were six of his teammates.
When South Central scored two more in the third on a home run by Brandt, the Toppers seemed to go into a ho-hum mode that lasted to the top of the fifth. The fourth started with promise as Jordan Gregg and Nic Ondrey singled, but Tanner Mullen's line shot was caught by their third baseman who then dove to (perhaps) double Gregg off third.
Hillsboro scored three to forge a tie in the fifth. Brock Bellaver doubled to lead off, with his fly just glancing off the top of the inside of the left fence as it came down. Lemon drove a ground ball into right for a one-out RBI; he scored on Carroll's ringing double, with Carroll taking third on the unadvised throw to the plate. King then collected his first of five RBIs with a sacrifice fly that tied the game when Carroll scored.
The Cougars regained the lead with a run off Tuetken in the bottom of the fifth as he hit the first two batters. Sam Rubin singled to load the bases with no outs; Hunter Brandt, the first hit by pitch victim, scored on a sacrifice fly to left. A sacrifice bunt moved the other two runners up a base, but a ground ball to short ended the threat.
Another sophomore, Owen Anderson, pitched the bottom of the sixth; a defensive play with two outs reversed the feeling of doom on Hillsboro's side of the field. Brandt Hiestand poked a drive off the left field fence; Dillon Smail, the Topper left fielder after defensive changes were made, chased the bounce off the wall and threw a strike to the relay man, King, who in turn threw to Carroll covering second in time to catch the sliding Hiestand. The play was executed perfectly, and it built a fire under the Toppers.
Carroll drew a four pitch walk to open the top of the seventh before King cleared the 325 mark in left center with his first home run of the season. The Toppers were up 6-5, and Anderson was in line to claim his first varsity win as a pitcher. The Toppers went on to score 13 insurance runs; in total Hillsboro had nine base hits, drew one walk, and reached base on six Cougar errors as 19 players came to bat.
Nine of those runs came after two were out. Freshman Drake Vogel had two doubles, two runs scored, and four RBIs; White had two hits, scored two runs, and collected an RBI; and Carroll batted three times in the memorable inning.
South Central may have been demoralized, but no give-up was evident in their half of the seventh. It took three Hillsboro pitchers (freshman Devin Speiser made his first varsity pitching appearance and retired two Cougars; Drew Willman recorded the last out) to finish the inning, which saw SC score eight runs of their own.
The Toppers need to keep the momentum they gained in Kinmundy as they play Greenville in the semi-finals of the Greenville Regional this afternoon, Thursday, May 16, in Greenville. First pitch is at 4:30.
May 13 at Kinmundy
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
Grosenheider 3 4 4 4 1 1
Tuetken 2 1 1 1 1 0
W-Anderson 1 0 0 1 0 0
Speiser 0.2 6 4 2 1 2
King 0.0 2 0 1 0 1
Willman 0.1 0 0 1 1 0
*Grosenheider 3 HBP, Tuetken 3 HBP
South Central IP R ER H K BB
Roberts 2 1 0 0 1 3
Patton 2.1 3 2 5 1 0
L-Dotson 1.2 6 2 2 3 2
Lyberger 1 9 0 8 0 0
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Drake Vogel (2-2, 2R, 4RBI), Ty White (2-3, 2R, 1RBI), Nic Ondrey (2-3, 2R, 2RBI), Griffin King (2-3, 2R, 4RBI), Kaden Lemon (2-5, 3R, 2RBI); South Central - Hunter Brandt (3-3, 5RBI), Logan Lotz (2-3), Sebastian Cowger (2-4). 2B: Hillsboro - Drake Vogel 2, Brock Bellaver 1, Landon Carroll 1, Griffin King 1; South Central - Hunter Brandt 1, Aaron Patton 1. HR: Hillsboro - Griffin King 1; South Central - Hunter Brandt 1.
Records: Hillsboro (12-10); South Central (13-8).
It's a long trip to Edwards County (near the Indiana border) for a baseball game if one lives in Hillsboro, but the Topper varsity ventured there to play a single game on Saturday, May 11, because a last minute tune-up before regionals begin is important. The lesson reinforced on the trip this season was the cliche, "A game isn't over until it's over," because the host team turned a 7-5 deficit entering the bottom of the sixth into a 10-7 win with a five run rally even though Tanner Mullen was on the mound.
Mullen had the Toppers' best earned run average (1.62) and had entered the game in the fifth. He faced only three batters in that frame, in part because catcher Jace Tuetken cut down Schmittler, EC's clean-up hitter, who had singled up the middle when he tried to steal.
Edwards County had scored three in the third off starter Landon Carroll based on a single, two walks, and a double by Schmittler. Griffin King came on to retire the next two batters, but EC mounted a two-out, two run rally off him in the fourth. A walk to Ledger followed by a home run to right center by their catcher, Cowger, did that damage.
Still, the Toppers had scored seven runs by that time. With one out in the first, Carroll and King were each hit by pitches. Jordan Gregg drew a walk before Nic Ondrey's RBI single, his first of three hits for the day.
In the top of the third, King singled, Gregg reached on an error, and Ondrey singled before Tuetken drove in two with a double. He was stranded at second, though, as Stennett finished his stint on the mount with a strikeout and a fly to center.
Three more runs in the fourth made it 7-3 before the EC comeback began. Kaden Lemon singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and stole third. King drew a walk and stole second; Gregg doubled them home, then scored on Mullen's base hit.
The offense stalled there, though, as Fritchley used only 12 pitches to get the last six outs. He moved to the mound in the top of the sixth, after Carroll drew a lead-off walk from Brock; his first victim popped up a 2-0 pitch, and the next hit a fly ball to right that began a double play when the runner on first couldn't return to the bag in time.
Ondrey singled to lead off the seventh, but after a strikeout, he was doubled off first as the last batter lined to short.
A second scheduled game was rained out after one inning of play.
Monday afternoon the regular season ended at South Central High in Kinmundy; for the Toppers, regional action begins this afternoon, Thursday, May 16, in Greenville against the Comets.
May 11 at Albion
Hillsboro 103 300 0 7 8 2
Edwards Cnty 003 205 x 10 11 3
Hillsboro IP R ER H K BB
Carroll 2.1 3 3 4 3 2
King 1.2 2 2 1 2 1
L-Mullen 2 5 5 6 1 0
Edwards Cnty IP R ER H K BB
Stennett 2 1 1 1 2 1
Brock 3 6 5 6 3 3
W-Fritchley 2 1 1 1 1 0
*Stennett 2 HBP
Multiple Hits: Hillsboro - Nic Ondrey (3-4, 1R), Tanner Mullen (2-4, 1RBI); Edwards County - Ledger (2-3), Cowger (2-3, Luebbers (2-3), Schmittler (2-4). 2B: Hillsboro - Jordan Gregg 1, Jace Tuetken 1; Edwards County - Schmittler 1. HR: Edwards County - Cowger 1, Leger 1.
Records: Hillsboro (11-10).