Consecutive 9th Region crowns and a state runner-up finish in 2015 show how much the Highlands Bluebirds baseball team has risen in recent years.
The Bluebirds have consistently faced tough competition during the regular season since Head Coach Jeremy Baioni took over the program in 2009. That includes games against Greater Catholic League South opponents.
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"It's really cool," Baioni said. "I'm excited for the guys. I know they're really excited for it too. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We're not sure if we're going to get this opportunity again. We're going to take full advantage of it."
Baioni had heard about high school games being played there and he sent a text to Cincinnati Moeller's head coach. Within a week, Baioni received a call from St. Xavier Head Coach Bob Sherlock saying the Bombers had a game scheduled, but needed an opponent.
"We had to re-arrange some schedules," Baioni said. "Luckily, we had some coaches from Cincinnati and Kentucky that were really accommodating and made it work for us. Coach Sherlock really spearheaded the thing and got us involved."
The stadium surface is made of Perennial Ryegrass. The field goes 404 feet to center field, 328 to left field and 325 to right field. The backstop is 55 feet. The game will be played with those dimensions and not a temporary fence.
"It's sweet. We get to see our favorite team play there every summer," said Trey Bowden, Highlands senior. "Being able to play on it ourselves is just awesome. Playing on the same field as Joey Votto, it doesn't get any better than that."
The Kentucky High School Athletic Association lets teams play 36 games during the regular season. But Baioni said the Bluebirds usually schedule more than 40 to plan for rain-outs. But Baioni said playing at places such as Great American and Florence Freedom Field on turf helps the Bluebirds come close to that limit because the fields are ready if there are chances to play.
Highlands also plays St.Xavier at Highland Park on May 12 at 5 p.m. The Bluebirds also take on GCL South opponents Elder at Freedom Field on April 19 at 5 p.m. and Moeller at 5 p.m. at Highland Park on May 8.
"It's just a great thing that we're put in the same category with them where they want to play us," said Kyle Rust, Highlands senior. "It's a competitive game. Knowing when Coach Baioni took over, they weren't at that level. It's just a great accomplishment for him and the team."
Highlands finished 1-3 against GCL South opponents last year. The Bluebirds lost twice to the Moeller Crusaders and once to the Bombers before beating Elder for the fourth straight year. Highlands is 5-10 against GCL South teams since Baioni took over as head coach. The other Bluebird win came 10-6 against La Salle in 2015.
"Our guys have seen it the last few years where we're seeing really good pitchers and really good teams every day," Baioni said. "They understand that helps us prepare for district, region and state tournament play. We're not shell-shocked when we see a guy who throws really hard or a guy who can swing it pretty good. This year is probably the toughest schedule we've probably faced."
Highlands has 10 games scheduled total against out-of-state opponents. Seven are from Ohio and the other three are from Tennessee. The Bluebirds face two rivals from Tennessee's largest Class 3A, Region 5, District 9 in the Mount Juliet Golden Bears and Hendersonville Commandos, which are Nashville suburbs. The Bluebirds also have a third game against Tennessee competition scheduled against Christian Brothers out of Memphis as part of the Kentucky/Tennessee Border Battle.
Ticket information will be available March 1st. Contact Jeremy Baioni with any questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.