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Highland returns favor on Mascoutah in high school baseball

Just two days after dropping a close 2-1 road game to Mississippi Valley Conference rival Mascoutah, the Highland baseball team returned the favor at home.

Highland took advantage of a pair of first-inning errors to score three early runs and then rode the pitching of lefty Chase Knebel and righthander Cake Houchins to a resounding 4-0 shutout win over the Indians on Wednesday at Glik Park in Highland.

Pulling even with Mascoutah atop the MVC standings with the win was a great feeling for Knebel and his teammates as Highland moved to 16-1-1 (3-1).

“It was amazing,” Knebel said. “We played a really close game with them Monday and we knew how hard it was going be beat them and they’re a really good team, so it just felt really good to go beat them.”

Despite not getting many hits, Highland was able to get to Mascoutah starter Darren Klein early thanks to a small ball attack that plated three runs in the bottom of the first inning.

Jake Ottensmeier led off with single, stoles second, and moved to third on Trey Koishor’s groundout. Knebel then dropped a sacrifice bunt, reaching first base and Ottensmeier came home to score on an errant throw to third.

Deklan Riggs RBI single added another run and the Bulldogs added its final tally of the frame on another Indians error to go up 3-0 after the first inning.

“It was massive (to get the lead early),” Knebe said. “We didn’t really hit in the first inning but played small ball and played our game, so we just tacked it on that way. We’re gonna run, be fast not make easy out, and be hard on other team’s defenses.”

Knebel was also tough on Mascoutah’s hitters. The senior lefthander, who sports a 0.27 ERA, tossed six scoreless innings of baseball before giving way to closer Cale Houchins in the seventh inning. Knebel improved to 5-0 on the season with the victory.

“Chase was elevated tonight for the first couple of innings and we could feel it and then he started throwing short pitch out which is what he’s got to do and that’s his game,” Highland coach Joe Hawkins said.

In the bottom of the fifth Highland added an insurance run as Riggs knocked in his second RBI of the day with a run-scoring single to left center scoring Ottensmeier, making it 4-0.

That set up Knebel and the Bulldogs for the top of the seventh inning.

Mascoutah (16-2, 3-1) had one final threat in the seventh as Cody Scott and Caiden Behrmann led off with singles, chasing Knebel and bring on Houchins in relief for Highland.

Houchins, the Bulldogs senior closer came in and shut the door on Mascoutah with a strike-out and back-to-back ground ball outs to earn the save and preserve the win for Highland.

Coming in late and closing the door on opposing teams has been a role that Houchins has readily embraced this spring.

“It feels good to be able to go in the and shut the door and be able to end Chase’s great win for him,” Houchins said. “There’s no weak spot in our pitching rotation. Every guy from top to bottom is very solid.”

Meanwhile, Hawkins is enjoying his club’s strong start to the season. “This has kind of how it’s been so far and one of the reasons they’ve gotten off to a tremendous start is playing defense, which they love to do and throwing strikes,” Hawkins said.

Highland will be back in action on today at home with a 4:30 p.m. nonconference matchup.

Mascoutah plays host to Salem in a double-header on Saturday at 11 a.m.