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Tough-luck Highlands gets its act together against St. Henry — just in time — in extra innings

By Dan Weber NKyTribune sports reporter

There were more huddles than in your average football game.

And not just because the Highlands-St. Henry first-round regional baseball game went into extra innings.

“There were just so many big situations,” Highlands’ Coach Jeremy Baioni said.

Both ways.

“We were just trying to figure out what to tell them to get a win,” Baioni said of what was going on as often, both teams, the one at-bat and the one in the field, were conferring in football-size numbers somewhere in the infield.

Give this one to Highlands as the tough-luck Bluebirds got their 20th win of the season against 14 losses, five of them by one run.

But District 34 runner-up St. Henry made it tough on the Birds. Really tough, jumping out to a 4-0 lead by the top of the fifth.

A double-huddle moment in the Highlands-St.Henry game with Highlands at home plate, St. Henry on the mound.

Only this wasn’t like those earlier games where Highlands couldn’t find a way. Nope, not Sunday.

The Birds came back for the game’s final five runs, taking advantage of St. Henry’s control issues, working for six walks from the sixth inning on.

“That’s a really good team win, as ugly as it gets” Baioni told his players.” I don’t care what it takes.”

What it took was a guy his teammates were chanting “Ohtani, Ohtani,” for his pitching/hitting heroics — relief pitcher and clutch-hitter, Zach deSylva. All he did was come on in the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs, down 4-3, and shut down the Crusaders with a pair of strikeouts and a fly out.

That was right after he’d hit a two-RBI line shot to bring the Birds back to within one, 4-3, the previous inning. How’d that hit feel, he was asked. Better than the strikeouts.

“I liked the walk-off, too,” the junior said. Oh, that. Zach has a point. In the bottom of the eighth, after walking Jack Hendrix, who had three hits, St. Henry’s Andrew Flanagan had walked the bases full and had to pitch to deSylva.

The long sacrifice fly to right by deSylva would end this one for Highlands, 5-4. Let the celebration begin.

Not only was it their 20th win of the season, it was a sign that after all those tough losses, this team has figured it out.

“I’m confident in all my guys,” said Hendrix, who could not be more confident at the plate himself with his three hits and two walks. “I told ‘em to just keep swinging, the ball is going to fall in.”

But in setting up deSylva, it didn’t have to fall in. A sacrifice fly is all it took. Hendrix thinks the tough earlier times are paying off now.

“This team has a lot of fight in it,” he said.

So did a St. Henry team that finishes with 13 wins against 20 losses. The Crusaders went down swinging. Starting pitcher Carson Shea gave them five good innings, leaving with a lead.

Flanagan had a pair of hits while Matt Resing’s triple to the fence plated a pair for the 4-0 lead. And then the control issues gave Highlands the chance the Birds needed.

“It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t pretty,” Baioni said. “We had so many guys make huge plays for us, even the routine plays.”

Which is exactly what this one took. Make enough of the plays you had better make and then have Zach deSylva step up for you to make the game-winners.

ST. HENRY 2 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 – 4-4-0
HIGHLANDS 0 0 0 0 3 1 0 1 – 5-7-0
WP: deSylva (3-3), LP: Flanagan 2-2

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