Schultz’s two-run blast puts Highland back in softball’s win column

Fresh off of a doubleheader split at Belleville West last Saturday, the Highland softball team was looking to start strong and fast against Mississippi Valley Conference foe Mascoutah on Monday.

Thanks to senior first baseman Abby Schultz, that’s just what happened.

Schultz blasted a two-run homer in the top of the first and the Bulldogs scored five runs in the first three innings as Highland rolled to an 8-1 win at Mascoutah High School.

Starting the conference portion of their schedule with a win that left the Bulldogs feeling good.

“We were excited coming and we had some good energy going into it tonight and I felt it from the parking lot when we left the bus,” Highland coach Chris Nikonvich said. “It’s the first conference win for myself taking over the program, so we’re excited.”

Schultz, who will be playing softball at SWIC next year, got the bats going early for Highland as she pounded a two-run blast over the left-center field fence off Mascoutah starter Faith Moore, giving Highland a quick 2-0 lead. The homer, Schultz’s first of the spring, was just the pickup Highland needed.

“We’ve been struggling offensively and we’ve been up and down but we’ve been working on it a lot at practice, so to start the game off and have two runners on and have me do that, I just think it helped our confidence,” Schultz said. “It was the first inning and we knew we’d have a lead going into defense. She gave me a fastball down the middle and all I can do is crank it if I hit it. I’ve been waiting all season for that one.”

In the top of the second, Highland (5-5, 1-0) scored a run on Holly Sexton’s RBI single to center making it 3-0.

Mascoutah (3-7, 0-1) broke the shutout in the bottom of the second on a booming home run over the center field fence by Kallie Kunz off Bulldogs hurler Kaitlyn Wilson. Kunz led the Indians with a 3 for 4 day at the plate.

Highland plated two more runs in the top of the third as Jordan Bircher’s run-scoring single to left and Taylor Newingham’s RBI groundout pushed the lead to 5-1.

The Bulldogs added a runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh to take control. Highland’s 10-hit onslaught was a welcome sight for Nikonovich.

“We had some girls who had been struggling early in the season and how do you argue with that (10 hits) when everybody else in the lineup i starting to click, that’s what you need coming into conference time,” Nikonovich said.

The big lead allowed Wilson to settle in and pitch with little pressure. Wilson turned in a string effort in the circle giving up only one run on five hits to get the complete game victory.

“What’s awesome for her is she was getting up early and not getting behind (in the count),” Nikonovich said. hat allows her to be able to have some fun with it and be able to move that ball around where she wants and doesn’t have to pitch to where they want it.”

Schultz believes the Bulldogs are ready to get rolling provided the weather gives them some breaks.

“If we get out here we definitely have hitters up and down our lineup,” Schultz said. “It’s all about confidence early and we just have to build and after we all get a few hits, we build that lead and that really helps our confidence and we just hit that much better.”

Highland will be back on the diamond Wednesday with a 4:30 p.m. home conference matchup against Jerseyville.