Senior right fielder JP Donelan said the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team (5-6) came back from the PBR Atlanta Spring Break Trip against teams from Kentucky, Illinois and Ohio with some valuable experience.
That includes at-bats against right and left-handed pitchers that were hitting 90 miles per hour on the radar gun. That paid dividends in their first game back from the trip in a 5-1 win on the road against the Dixie Heights Colonels (4-7). The Bluebirds moved to 3-2 in 9th Region action with the win.
Highlands pounded out 10 hits in 28 at-bats for a .357 average in the win with one double. Each spot except the final spot in the order had at least one hit for the Bluebirds.
“One thing we talk about is when we strike out,” said Jeremy Baioni, Highlands head coach. “It’s not nearly as many times. It’s when. That’s what happened in the first couple innings. If you get guys on base then you struck out, suddenly you don’t get the chance to move runners. Early on we didn’t execute getting bunts down and those type of things. Later on, we strung a few hits together.”
Donelan led the way going 3-for-3 with one run scored and senior second baseman Ryan DeBurger went 2-for-3 with a double, one RBI and one run scored. The Bluebirds also took advantage of three Colonel errors.
“Anything we could have seen in the box, we executed and found barrels,” Donelan said. “I think it’s timing of when you start. That’s what we’ve been working on. We’ve had a lot of guys start early struggling with timing. So our thought process was to stay back in the box and no matter what the velocity is, just let it get to your hitting zone before you start your swing. Don’t lean out. If you stay back, you can be pretty much on time for anything.”
Junior right-handed pitcher Brody Benke (1-1) pitched five innings to pick up the win, striking out eight and walking four. Junior Zach DeSylva pitched the sixth and seventh, striking out two. The Bluebirds played error-free baseball behind them.
“We’ve pitched really well. If we continue to make routine plays, we have a pretty good chance to stay in a lot of games,” Baioni said. “It’s our second game on a natural surface. We’ve played every game on artificial turf except two. We know there is going to be some growing pains through that because the ball is not going to bounce the same way. But I liked the way we bodied some balls up instead of being in a rush to get to them.”
Benke and DeSylva limited Dixie Heights to just four hits on the day. Junior right fielder Thomas Gemeinhardt had Dixie’s lone extra-base hit with a double to lead off the bottom of the seventh. But DeSylva retired the next three Colonels to end the game.
“I think we need to come ready to play,” said Chris Maxwell, Dixie Heights head coach. “We showed up at 10 a.m. (Saturday) and weren’t ready to play. It’s hard to get them excited. We need to be prepared to play every day. We need to find some outfielders that can catch the ball, get the bats going and we’ll be okay.”
Junior right-hander Brach Rice (1-2) pitched into the fourth taking the loss for Dixie Heights and junior Cole Pullum finished the game. Rice struck out five and walked three with Pullum striking out three and walking three.
Both teams put the leadoff hitter on base four times. Senior left fielder Brayden Runion led off the second with a walk, stole second, took third on a wild pitch before scoring on a Ethan Bosley single to put Dixie Heights up 1-0.
The Colonels put the leadoff batter on base the next inning. But Benke got senior first baseman Owen Lawrence to ground into a double play from junior third baseman Drew Barth to DeBurger then to junior first baseman Luke Schneider.
“In practice, we always do double-play drills so when we get into the game, it’s kind of instinct,” DeBurger said. “It started with a good play at third – perfect throw. We were able to execute. Coach Baioni does a great job of putting us in positions to succeed.”
The Bluebirds left two runners on base in the second and third innings. But they came through with three runs in the top of the fourth to go up for good at 3-1. Donelan singled then DeBurger doubled him to third with one out. That’s when junior left fielder Cam Bottom came through with a two-run single. Bottom then took second on a passed ball before senior shortstop Jack Hendrix singled him in.
Highlands scored its other two runs in the top of the fifth. Schneider reached second on a Dixie Heights error and Barth walked before Donelan singled again to load the bases. Junior designated hitter Zach Bracken singled in Scheider before DeBurger hit a sacrifice fly to center to score Barth to make the final score.
Both teams return to action Monday. Highlands travels to Holy Cross (5-8) for a 6 p.m. game. Dixie Heights plays a doubleheader on Monday at home against Covington Catholic (6-1) at 1 p.m. in a make-up game then Boone County (4-6-1) at 5 p.m.
Other Baseball Scores
Campbell County 3, Ballard 1
West Clermont (Ohio) 6, Beechwood 5
Bellevue 14, Gallatin County 11
Bracken County 7, Bellevue 4
Boone County 2, Calvary Christian 1
Cooper 5, Barren County 1
Garrard County 6, Cooper 5
Williamstown 16, Dayton 1 (4 innings)
Harrison County 2, Lloyd Memorial 0
Conner 8, Lawrenceburg (Indiana) 2
Simon Kenton 4, Oldham County 3
Trinity 10, Scott 0 (5 innings)
Cooper 13, Daviess County 11 (8 innings)
The Jaguars (8-3) scored four times in the top of the eighth then held off the three-time defending Third Region champ Panthers (9-2) at Ryle. Daviess County came into the game ranked fifth in the latest Kentucky High School Softball Coaches Statewide Poll and finished state runner-up in 2021.
The Jaguars collected 12 hits, all of them singles. Senior Emily Schmeltz led the way going 3-for-4 with four runs scored and junior Kailey Milburn went 3-for-5 with five RBI. Freshman Kaitlyn Furnish went 2-for-4 with two RBI and junior Ava Scott went 2-for-5 with one run scored. Junior Maddie Childress batted in two and freshman Ainsley Scroggie scored three times.
“It wasn’t the way I expected the game to go by any means,” said Rusty Scott, Cooper head coach. “I was kind of expecting a tight one-run low-scoring game where one thing went one way or the other. But it ended up being sloppy for both teams.”
Senior Kendall Blau (6-2) pitched a complete game striking out eight, walking three and allowing 11 hits and four earned runs. Cooper made five errors in the win.
“It was hard at first. Once we realized we could get the pitcher’s speed down, I think we actually figured out we could do it,” Blau said. “Our defense wasn’t the greatest. But we came together and made it work altogether.”
The Jaguars travel to Boone County (4-7) on Tuesday for the first 33rd District seed game this year at 5 p.m.
Other Softball Scores
Bracken County 9, Boone County 4
Trimble County 26, Ludlow 0 (3 innings)
Burgin 27, Ludlow 8
Beechwood 16, Richmond Model 9
Daviess County 9, Ryle 0
Williamstown 15, Bellevue 5 (5 innings)