WYTHEVILLE — For the biggest part of their season, Highland High School’s baseball team played with a nine-player roster this spring.
Those nine did the entire county proud here last Thursday.
The Rams battled George Wythe in a Class 1, Region C baseball quarterfinal, losing 11-1 in a game that was much more competitive than the final score would tell you.
Coaches J.D. Hiner and Danny Hull and the roster of Michael Campbell, John Wagner, Zach Armstrong, Colton Williams, Evan Kimble, Patton Hull, Eli Moore, Elijah Good and Tristan Carpenter stood toe to toe with the Maroons, before the hosts ended things early, scoring two runs in the home half of the fifth and five more in the sixth.
George Wythe, 11-9 on the season, led just 2-1 through two and a half innings and 4-1 after four and a half.
“We came out and competed — our little school down here with our nine kids,” said Hiner. “We had them worried there for a few innings.”
Armstrong took the baseball from Coach Hiner and pitched five strong innings, allowing seven hits and five earned runs.
He gave up a leadoff home run to Ben Jollay in the home half of the first, but used his curveball effectively, punching out six Maroons.
“Zach gave us a chance,” Hiner said. “A freshman — there’s not a freshman on that team out there (George Wythe). I knew they were a good fastball hitting team. That’s why I threw Zach. He’s got a lot of off-speed stuff.”
Armstrong reached the end of his pitch count with the final out of the fifth.
The Maroons broke things open in the sixth with five straight hits off Williams, who pitched in relief. Campbell came on to pitch to two batters in the inning.
“I questioned my call a little bit putting Colton in,” Hiner said. “But Colton deserved it. He wanted it before the game, he wanted it during the game. He pitched better than he has pitched all year. They just hit fastballs. I had to give him a chance. He earned the right.”
The game was delayed by rain for 43 minutes in the bottom of the fourth.
Logan Mullins led George Wythe’s 13-hit attack with three knocks and three RBI. Austin Repass added three hits and drove in two and Owen Repass had three RBI and a pair of doubles.
Highland managed just three hits off Maroon Colton Green, who went the distance for the winners. The hard-throwing senior struck out six and walked two.
Campbell had two of the Rams’ three hits — an infield single in the third and a solid base hit through the middle in sixth.
Highland scored its run in the third inning when Eli Moore reached on an error, moved to second on a wild pitch, advanced to third on an Elijah Good ground out and scored on a balk.
Williams had the other Ram hit, a one-out single in the fourth, and Armstrong was on base twice with a pair of walks.
Williams finished his huge senior season with a .406 batting average, five home runs and 34 RBI in 22 games.
“I thought we played fairly good ball after traveling down here three and a half hours and competing against the program they have here,” said Hiner. “You can see it. They are just so much ahead of us — coaching, field, field maintenance, everything.”
The Rams finished the season with an 11-11 record.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done this year — very proud,” said the coach. “To me, we have exceeded our expectations this year. We left some games on the table we should have won, but overall, we exceeded our expectations. We exceeded the expectations of the high school and I think we exceeded the expectations of the community. That just goes to show that these nine or 10 players I’ve had all season — it shows how much heart they’ve got. They knew they were the underdogs from the very beginning.”
Hiner shared most of his roster with the track team, who competed in the regionals just one day earlier at Giles.
“I guarantee they’ve worked harder, just about, than any other baseball team,” he said. “They’ve put more time in as far as conditioning, training and baseball. I know they’ve put more time in than anybody. There’s a few kids on each team I’m sure who run track and play baseball, but not just about the whole team.”
Last Thursday’s Linescore
Highland 001 000 - 1 3 3
G. Wythe 202 025 - 11 13 2
WP: Colton Green; LP: Zach Armstrong (2-3)
HR: Ben Jollay (1st inning, 0 on)