Highlands baseball continues hot streak, edges Belle Vernon in 1st round

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Wednesday, May 19, 2021 | 9:22 PM


Highlands has been playing some of its best baseball in recent weeks, so heading in to its WPIAL Class 4A first-round game Wednesday against Belle Vernon, coach Jeff Campbell said his team just needed to do one thing.

Believe.

So the sixth-seeded Golden Rams dug deep and earned a 3-0 victory over No. 11 Belle Vernon at Plum, securing a trip to the quarterfinals and a matchup with No. 3 Blackhawk on Monday.

Nulph, a junior right-hander who has a 1.46 ERA this season, allowed five hits and struck out 10 and in 6 13 innings for Highlands (13-8).

“This actually goes back to when I first took the job,” Campbell said. “Back then, my words were ‘You gotta believe in yourself. You gotta believe in your teammates, and you gotta believe in your coaches.’ Tanner believed in himself on the pitchers, our defense believed in themselves and their teammates and they believed in me when I was giving them signs. They are all just playing in sync right now.”

Nulph kept the Leopards (6-9) off balance all night with a mix of pitches. He also worked himself out of a few jams that kept the Golden Rams in the ball game.

In the fifth and sixth innings, he stranded two runners. But arguably his toughest inning came in the first as two of Belle Vernon’s first three batters found holes in the outfield for singles. However, Nulph struck out the final two batters of the inning.

“I always feel like my last couple innings are always my best innings because I know what the hitters are going to do, and I know how to counter what their approach is,” Nulph said. “So I think that’s why I probably looked better late in the game.”

The Highlands offense got going in the bottom of the fifth inning. Mason McGraw led off with a walk before Seth Helgert reached a bunt single, which led to a sacrifice bunt by Ethan Hewitt to put both runners in scoring position.

Then, Jimmy Kunst, who leads the team with 15 RBIs this season, delivered a two-RBI single to right-center to score both runners and break the tie.

“He’s an athlete, and if you want anybody up there in an RBI situation, Jimmy is the guy you want up there,” Campbell said.

Kunst came around to score on Trent Bielak’s RBI single.

“I was telling these guys that we needed to play for one run because we thought it was going to be that type of game,” Campbell said. “So we had to be smart. They had to do their job. Their teammates had to do their job, and we’ll get out of here with a ‘W,’ and that’s how the game went.”

Belle Vernon’s Matt Bamford kept the Golden Rams off the scoreboard for most of the night and allowed just seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He didn’t register any strikeouts but used his command in key situations.

“He was stellar,” Belle Vernon coach Tony Watson. “He pitched a great game. Even Andrew (Kostelnik) and Colton (Lee) pitched pretty well, too. We just couldn’t get the timely hit tonight.”

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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