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EDWARDSVILLE – In a very tight, well-played pitchers duel, Alton Post 126 scored a run in the bottom of the ninth to give Alton a 2-1 win over Highland Post 439 in a District 22 game played Tuesday night at SIU-Edwardsville’s Roy E. Lee Field at the Simmons Baseball Complex.

Both starters – Alton’s Adam Stilts and Highland’s Kolby Frey – matched each other practically pitch-by-pitch as Alton took an early 1-0 lead and made the run stand up until the top of the seventh when Highland broke up a no-hit bid by Stilts to tie the game and force extra innings.

And the two relievers – Tyler Steward of Alton and Austin Toler of Highland – were just as impressive, with both dueling until the bottom of the ninth, when Alton broke through for the win.

“Two great teams battle it out,” said Alton manager Doug Booten. “Fortunately, we won, unfortunately, someone had to lose. Good pitching on both sides, all four pitchers, two from Highland as well Stilts and Tyler Steward on our side. It was a well fought game.”

In fact, Stilts had a no-hitter going into the seventh until Highland broke through with their only run on an RBI single by Blake Wallen. What could Booten say?

“I’ll say I did not know that,” Booten said with a smile and laugh.

“He pitched very well,” Booten also said. “His pitch count in the first two innings was up, which prohibited him from going any longer; we had to pull him there. But everything was working tonight.”

And although Alton had a couple of errors that put runners on base, the defense was also excellent. It was highlighted by center fielder Cullen McBride sliding in to make a catch of a fly ball by Ross Spies that ended the first inning, and shortstop Jayce Maag going deep into the hole to throw out a pair of Highland batters that kept the no-hit bid alive.

“Cullen McBride made a real good catch in center field,” Booten said, “and then Jayce Maag went into the hole, came up throwing, and we got that guy at first. We had a couple of errors, but it didn’t seem to fluster us, I guess, and we were able to get outs.”

Highland manager Harry Painter also felt it was a very good matchup between two very good clubs that have high expectations for the summer season, where Alton got the last break to win.

“Yeah, they did,” Painter said. “It was a great baseball game, it was good to be a part of it. First run they scored was unearned, but we battled, we battled hard, we came back in the seventh inning and tied it up, it went nine, and we eventually lost. What are you going to say?”

Painter felt the match up between Frey and Stilts was a great dual, indeed.

“Yeah, it was a true pitcher’s duel right there tonight, no doubt about it,” Painter said. “Kolby pitched his butt off tonight, he threw over 90 pitches and did an outstanding job for us tonight. He kept us in the game the whole way, and we just couldn’t get the big hits to come through, that’s all.”

Both teams did play very well and made it a very entertaining game for everyone involved.

“Yeah, there’s no doubt about it,” Painter said. “I just got done saying that I’d much rather play a game like this than beating somebody 10, 15-0. It was a great baseball game, great pitcher’s dual. But it’s also tough to lose a game like that, too. But hey, we’re alright. We’re 5-1 right now, we’re a good ball club, we’re ready to go. We faced a good pitcher tonight, and we’ll be back.”

Landyn Oestringer started off the game for Highland with a walk, but a pair of fielder’s choices kept a runner at first when, with two out, Spies lifted a fly ball that McBride slid across on the turf to make a dazzling catch that looked to have fallen in originally, but the umpires ruled it a catch to end the inning. In the bottom half, Maag and Gage Booten led off with back-to-back singles and were sacrificed over by McBride on a nicely-executed bunt. With Owen Stendeback up, a passed ball allowed Maag to score and Booten to advance to third, but Stendeback popped out to first to end the inning.

Stilts then went to work after Colton Knebel reached on an error leading off the second, retiring the next 13 batters in a row while striking out six to keep the 1-0 Alton lead. Alton had a chance to extend its lead in the second, starting with a walk to Ethan Kopsie, who was sacrificed to second, and one out later, Owen Macias drew a walk. Both runners advanced on a wild pitch, but Maag struck out to end the inning.

Frey kept Alton in check from the third to the sixth himself, allowing only one hit and two walks in that span while striking out six. For the game, Frey fanned nine before coming out in the seventh.

Stilts did allow a baserunner with one out in the Highland half of the sixth, striking out Oestringer, but a wild pitch on strike three allowed Oestringer to go to first base. Oestringer ended up at third, but a pair of ground outs ended the inning, keeping the no-hitter alive.

Highland finally broke through in the seventh when, with one out, Knebel reached on an error, taking second, and then scored on Wallen’s solid single to left to tie the game at 1-1. Stilts struck out Carter Wegman before giving way to Steward, who struck out Jack Ernst to end the inning.

Toler came in in the seventh after a fly out by Ryan Best, due to pitch count rules, and struck out Bianco and pinch hitter Zack Knight to force extra innings. Alton threatened in the eighth on a single by McBride and a Preston Schepers double to put runners on second and third, but a fly out ended the inning.

Highland had a chance to take the lead in the top of the eighth when Jon Dickman singled and Dillon Knebel was hit by a pitch, but Spies was called out on strikes to end the inning. Steward pitched exceptionally, striking out five himself in the two-and-one-third innings he worked.

Alton won the game in the home half of the ninth, starting with a lead-off triple by Kopsie, the ball just eluding the left fielder while Kopsie made it to third. A sacrifice fly to center by Best won it for Alton, the throw to the plate by a drawn-in outfield offline, allowing Kopsie to score the winning run.

Highland plays in a tournament next week in Trenton, and Painter is looking forward to playing in it.

“We’ve got a tournament coming up here in Trenton next week,” Painter said, “against some teams we never get to play against, so we’re excited about that. We’ll have three or four games in that tournament, then it’s back to league play after that.”

Alton plays a district game on Wednesday at East St. Louis, then plays in a tournament this weekend in Festus, Mo. With the record now 5-3, things are starting to look up for Alton.

“Yeah, we’re not hitting like we should,” Booten said. “But our pitching’s coming along. That was a big couple of innings by Tyler Steward. We need to find a few more, but he did very well. We need to take this win and build off it, and hopefully, win tomorrow night and keep going.”

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