· Baseball - Holmes County ·

After an eternity of waiting, Kandel leads Hawks past Pirates 5-1

Garaway catcher Korrie Stress

After over a week of horrible weather putting the kibosh on Garaway playing any kind of real and meaningful baseball, the Pirates got the joy of jumping back into action against Hiland at Lehman Field on Thursday, April 5. It also had been five days since Hiland had last played, so both teams knew it needed to have their pitchers throw strikes and most importantly try to get on top early.

The Hawks accomplished both of those tasks and got a leg up on the Pirates in the race for the Inter-Valley Conference South league title.

For both teams, finally getting back to real baseball was something they had been looking forward to for quite some time.

“You can only practice inside for so long before it gets stale, and we had a long time off, but I thought our kids handled that part of it very well,” Garaway coach Justin Elmore said.

Having to replace two-thirds of his starting team from last season, Elmore said the worst part of missing an entire week was that it hurt the process of having his youngsters gain valuable experience.

“Right now we are a team that needs to play every day because we don’t have a lot of experience at some key positions. But we do have some really good pitching back, and I am excited about what we can become.”

Pitching in this one was key, and both coaches turned to their aces.

Hiland’s Damien Kandel and Garaway’s Trey Hershberger were the two seniors their respective head coaches asked to toe the rubber in this key contest, and while both threw well, Kandel was on target and tough to hit all night in leading the Hawks to a 5-1 victory.

“Damien was sharp all night. He was outstanding,” Hiland head coach Chris Dages said. “He was around the plate all night. He threw strikes and got ahead of batters.”

“This was my first real pitching of the year,” said Kandel, who served as Hiland’s number-three pitcher last season. “The one inning they put up the run, I was up and out of the zone.”

Kandel said he went to pitching coach Brad Schlabach, who tightened up his mechanics and got him back on track. “That really helped me keep the ball down the rest of the game,” Kandel said.

Kandel was nearly perfect, as was the Hawks’ defense, which committed just one error in playing solidly behind him. Knowing he had a stout defense to lean on, Kandel said that helped him to simply relax and throw strikes. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out three on the night.

Hiland took the early lead at 1-0 in the bottom of the first when Andy Miller was hit by a Trey Hershberger offering. He advanced to third when Ryan Hershberger doubled to left and scored on Cameron Miller’s ground out.

Hiland added to that lead in the third, and it was the same crew who got it done. Andy Miller doubled, Hershberger singled and Cameron Miller doubled in the first run of the inning. With two outs Kandel helped himself out by singling in Hershberger for a 3-0 Hiland lead.

Kandel was perfect through the Garaway order until nine-man Trevor Donaldson singled to center with two outs in the third inning.

The Pirates finally touched Kandel for their lone run in the fourth. With one out Peyton Miller uncorked a double to center, and Ryan Aleshire followed by lashing a base hit to right to plate the run.

Hiland’s response was quick and decisive as they got back that run in the bottom of the fourth inning. Andy Miller hit a one-out triple to right center, and with two outs Cameron Miller crushed a ball to the base of the wall in left center to make it 4-1.

“I finally was able to get my hands extended and drive a ball,” Cameron Miller said of his double. “It felt good to finally hit something hard.”

Kandel went right back to work, recording six straight outs over the next two innings, and Hiland tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a single by Andy Miller and Ryan Hershberger and an error.

Garaway had one last gasp when with two outs in the last inning Josh Yoder singled and Kory Stress reached on an error at short from Andy Miller, but Kandel caught Gary Miller looking for strike three to end the contest.

“This was one of the first games where we played from ahead and stayed there,” Dages said. “We stayed loose, and everybody was up and focused, even the guys on the bench. We’ve been cooped up inside, and this was a big game because it is a league game that counts for our division, so our guys were anxious to get out on the field.”

Cordell Miller, who mans the catcher’s position for Hiland, said that since game two, a loss to Loudonville in which the Hawks gave up 14 walks, the pitching has been excellent.

“Our pitchers are starting to work their stuff, and they are starting to feel more relaxed and confident,” Cordell Miller said.

It didn’t hurt that Hiland’s two, three and four hitters went a combined 8-for-11 with five runs, four of those scored by Andy Miller. Cordell Miller drove home three.

“Their two through four hitters just killed us tonight,” Elmore said. “We’ve got a lot of youth out there, but overall it felt like both Trey and Josh [Yoder] threw the ball really well today. I am leaving here about as happy as I have been over the past several years because I thought despite our inexperience we came in here and competed with a great program. We made some youthful mistakes, but we are going to get better. We’ve got to learn from some of our mistakes tonight, but they are things that are fixable.”

With the win the Hawks improved to 3-2 on the season while the Pirates fell to 2-1.

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