MAGNA — During this school year, Highland High won a state football title in a dramatic championship game, and then added to its trophy collection with a championship in boys basketball.
That type of success can put pressure on other sports programs to collect titles as well. But the school's baseball program isn't feeling it.
"Actually, there's no pressure because we've been known as the Highland baseball team who doesn't get any wins, so there's really no pressure at all," said Rams first baseman/pitcher Max Bradshaw. "We'll just come out here, and teams are going to look through us, and we're just going to take it to them and have a great season."
The Rams got off to a great start on Thursday.
Highland outlasted Cyprus 8-6 in eight innings at Magna Park in the season opener for both teams. The Rams opened up a 5-0 lead before the Pirates came back to tie it. Highland also led 6-5 in the seventh before Cyprus again tied the game to send it into extra innings.
It was a big step forward for the Rams to keep battling when things weren't going their way. Highland won two games last season, and averaged fewer than four victories per year in the last five high school baseball seasons.
"This was huge for them mentally," said Highland first-year coach Mario Cisneros, who coached at Hunter last season. "One of the biggest things I wanted to know was if we would compete for seven innings. We struggled with that during the summer."
Highland started quickly against the Pirates, as Wilson Meek ripped a two-run double to right-center field in the second inning to put the Rams on the board. Bradshaw crushed an RBI triple to left-center in the third, and Highland added another run in fourth to take a 5-0 lead.
Cyprus answered, however, as Collin Loutensock provided a clutch hit with a two-run double. The Pirates tied the game in the fifth on coach Bob Fratto's patented delayed/double steal.
"Bobby pulled it off," Cisneros said. "It was pretty. We actually practiced defending it. But that was our panic moment."
That play briefly sent the Rams into a tailspin. Their heads hung, and it seemed to be just a matter of time before Cyprus took over.16 comments on this story
But the Rams hung in there and retook the lead in the seventh when Bradshaw hit an RBI single. In the eighth, Meek drove in the go-ahead score, and Hank Christenson added an insurance run with an RBI groundout to put Highland ahead 8-6. Bradshaw closed the game for the Rams, pitching a scoreless eighth.
"They battled," Cisneros said. "In the past, what's happened is they would get ahead, they'd lose their lead and they'd all hang their heads and they'd get 10-runned and go home. They were not even used to being in it seven innings."
Highland hopes those days are in the past, and it opened a new era of Rams baseball impressively on Thursday.
"Today was huge, and I'm happy for them," Cisneros said of his players.