The Highland Park High School baseball team has been hitting on all cylinders this spring. Through May 2, the talented Scots had compiled a 7-0 overall record, including 5-0 in the Saint Paul City Conference. And though it was still early in the season, some of Highland’s team and individual statistics were striking.

The Scots scored 111 runs in their first seven wins, including four games that were called after the fifth inning. They had a team batting average of .459 to go along with a pitching ERA of 3.50. Five Scots hitters were hitting at a .500 clip or better, and one was averaging a sultry .722.

“We’ve had a really good hitting team,” said coach Chris Steenberg.

highland baseball
The Minutemen’s Ezra Harris awaits a pick-off attempt as the Scots’ Shea Landa slides back to first safely in the third inning of Central’s 10-2 win over Highland Park on May 5. It was the Scots’ second straight loss to the Minutemen and their first defeats of the season. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Before the season, Steenberg had some concerns about his team’s pitching and defense, but those fears are waning.

   

“We’ve also done a nice job of fielding,” Steenberg said, “and so far we’ve shown that we can pitch, too.”

Most of Highland’s victories have been blowouts so far this spring, but the team has shown it can also win the tight ones. This was evident when the Scots beat Saint Paul Academy 7-4 in what turned out to be the opener of the season on April 19, and outlasted Bloomington Jefferson 4-3 nine days later.

In the one-run win over the Jaguars, Steenberg said his club showed it was capable of playing clean, fundamental baseball. “That was a great team win for us,” he said. “It was a well-played game by both sides.”

 

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Highland has also cleaned up on its conference competition this spring, routing Johnson and Harding twice each.

“We still have a lot to prove,” coach Chris Steenberg said. “We’ll see how we respond, but I think it’ll be a good response.”

Senior shortstop Jake Ettel has been reliable in the field and has more than merited his third slot in the batting order with a .463 average. “He’s as consistent a player as you could ask for,” Steenberg said.

Senior third baseman Alex Figuera bats fifth and was hitting .529. He’s also a solid pitcher, nicely stepping into the role of both starter and reliever. Figuera had yet to give up a run in 10 innings of work. “He throws strikes,” Steenberg said.

At first base is junior George Bullard, who bats cleanup and was hitting .722 with 10 RBI and 12 runs scored. He also plays catcher.

When Bullard is behind the plate, sophomore Peter Douma handles first and was hitting .643 with 15 runs scored.

Anchoring the Scots outfield is senior center fielder Shea Landa, who was hitting .500, playing solid defense and emerging as the team’s ace starting pitcher. Landa was 2-0 with a 3.50 ERA. He threw a great six innings of two-run ball and struck out 10 against SPA in picking up the win. He was backed up nicely by Figuera, who has  two saves and a 1-0 record.

In right field is junior Mark Whaley, who was batting .550 and hitting for contact and power.

In left is junior Thomas Bradford, who Steenberg said can also play any infield position.

Steenberg figured his squad could use more pitching help beyond Landa and Figuera. He may have already found it in freshman Michael Wikelius, who had a  sterling five-inning stint against Harding in which he struck out seven and walked none.

Although his team got a late start playing outside this spring because of the weather (the first four games were postponed), Steenberg already knows a lot about his players. He noted that they were facing some tough upcoming nonconference contests against Richfield, Simley, Two Rivers and Saint Anthony.

The playoffs starting at the end of May will be the Scots’ toughest test of the season, but Steenberg said they’re hoping to make a good run.

“We still have a lot to prove,” he said. “We’ll see how we respond, but I think it’ll be a good response.”

— Bill Wagner

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