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Higbee wins first-ever district baseball title

Will host Kingsville in state sectional Monday

Justin Addison, Editor/Publisher
Posted 5/16/24

Higbee won its first-ever district baseball title on Wednesday, taking down rival Cairo in a 4-3 nailbiter in Glasgow.

The first-seeded Tigers defeated the host team 3-0 on Tuesday to make their …

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Higbee wins first-ever district baseball title

Will host Kingsville in state sectional Monday


Higbee won its first-ever district baseball title on Wednesday, taking down rival Cairo in a 4-3 nailbiter in Glasgow.

The first-seeded Tigers defeated the host team 3-0 on Tuesday to make their return to the championship game for the second time in three years. Two years ago, it was all Cairo. The Bearcats routed Higbee 12-1 to claim the 2022 district crown.

Senior ace Derek Rockett said beating Cairo for this year’s district title made it all the more special.

“It’s a big deal beating these guys,” he said. “This is what we want.”

Fellow senior Micah Kirby echoed those sentiments. “They run-ruled us last time. It shows how far we’ve come.”

The path to a district championship has been four years in the making for head coach Ryan Vogelgesang, now in his fourth year at Higbee. He praised his four seniors, Rockett, Kirby, Jaxson Hudson, and Will Spilman. “It’s never been done here,” he said. “It feels amazing. We’ve been building on that four years since I’ve been here. That group of seniors put everything into this program. Words can’t even describe what I’m feeling and what they’re feeling.

“These seniors are the heart of this program. They put so much into this town, this school. And to see it pay off, it’s awesome.”

Vogelgesang said his pitching strategy worked as planned. Junior Robert Smith drew the start against Glasgow in Tuesday’s semifinal, setting up NCAA D-II signee Rockett for Wednesday’s championship.

After Smith threw five and a third scoreless innings, Rockett closed the semifinal game, earning five outs in 29 pitches and, most importantly, staying below the 30-pitch limit to have him available to start the championship game the following night.

That also saved Spilman, who Vogelgesang said was the team’s No. 2 pitcher all season. The senior righty closed out the championship game, earning the last three outs to send Higbee to its first state sectional game.

Fittingly, Rockett was a part of the play that secured the final out of the game he started. Cairo’s Dalton Taylor connected on a 3-2 pitch, sending a ground ball to Rockett at shortstop, who made the throw to Hunter Dougherty at first to give Higbee its first district crown in program history.

“What we’ve done well all year is pitch the ball and field the ball,” Vogelgesang said. “Offensively, it’s been a struggle. It kind of came alive today. We put up a run in the first, which allowed us to build up that confidence.”

Higbee took advantage of some early pitching struggles from Cairo starter Joshua Zike, who issued back-to-back walks to leadoff Spilman and Rockett the first time through the order. Zike then committed an error that allowed Smith to reach base on a bunt. Spilman came home on the play to pick up an early one-run lead.

The Tigers scored again in the bottom of the third. After Rockett led off with a double, he was driven home on a fielder’s choice ground ball from Hudson.

Vogelgesang said that two-run lead gave Rockett some breathing room on the mound.

“I know Derick was really confident with a two-run lead. There’s a lot more he can do, and he’s not trying to be perfect with every pitch,” he said.

Cairo cut the lead to one run in the top of the fourth with three consecutive singles by Logan Hughes, Taylor, and Charles Chrisman, the latter of which drove in Hughes from second.

Rockett then buckled down with back-to-back strikeouts to get out of the inning.

The Tigers manufactured two insurance runs in the bottom of the fifth. After leading off with a single, Rockett advanced to second on a groundout by Smith. He then stole third after surviving a pick-off attempt and was driven home on a hard ground-ball single to left field by Cale Nelson.

The Tigers added a final run on what should have been the third out. Dougherty swung at and missed a 1-2 pitch. But the pitch was wild, and he was able to take first base to avoid the final out. The wild pitch also allowed Nelson to score from third, giving Higbee a 4-1 lead.

“All game, we were the aggressor,” Vogelgesang said. “We were getting bunts down. All the pressure was on their side of the dugout, and we were just playing good baseball.”

Cairo wouldn’t score again until Higbee made the pitching change in the top of the seventh.

Vogelgesang said he was taking a bit of a gamble with his pitching plan. Spilman is not typically a reliever and takes about an hour to warm up before each start.

With their season on the line, the Bearcats laid down back-to-back singles, then scored on a pair of sacrifice ground outs.

“We asked him to come out of the bullpen today,” Vogelgesang said about bringing in Spilman to close. “That’s a spot he’s not used to. He came in and buried down and got the outs that he needed to. It was key to get those cushion runs we got in the fifth inning.”

Spilman allowed two runs on two hits as he closed out the game.

Rockett reached his pitch-count limit after six complete innings. He surrendered just one run on five hits and allowed three walks. He also finished the game with 12 strikeouts, an average of two per inning.

At the plate, the Tigers drove in three of their four runs on six hits. Rockett and Kirby each finished with two-hit games. Rockett had the team’s only extra-base hit, a double in the third. Spilman and Nelson each finished with one hit apiece.

  Zike took the loss on the mound for Cairo. The junior gave up four runs (3 earned) on four hits and two walks and retired six batters on strikes in four and two-thirds innings. Brendan Huntsman walked one batter and allowed two hits but struck out three and didn’t surrender a run in one and a third innings of relief.

After the final groundout to Rockett, the Higbee gloves were in the air as the Tigers celebrated their first-ever district title.

Higbee will see another first on Monday, a sectional game played on the Tigers’ home field.

“That’s a big deal,” Rockett said after the game. “Higbee’s never seen a sectional baseball game, let alone at Higbee.”

The Tigers will take on Kingsville, which emerged with the District 11 title after entering the tournament as the third seed.

Kingsville currently sits below .500 at 8-11 overall, managing to sweep its district tournament after winning just five regular-season games.

“It’s a good draw. It’s the best job we could’ve gotten out of that district,” Vogelgesang said.

The first pitch for Monday’s state sectional is slated for 6 p.m. The winner will advance to the state quarterfinals on May 22, likely against the two-time reigning Class 1 state champions St. Elizabeth.


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