For the Hiland Hawks baseball team, representing Ohio and the Central region in the Senior Little League World Series in Easley, South Carolina was over almost before it began. Hiland was bounced from the tournament after struggling to a 19-9 loss to Southeast in the opener and then fell 8-0 in a game that saw them unable to generate much offensive flow.
That Hiland struggled to hit against some top-quality pitching wasn’t the most unusual part, but the sheer number of walks and errors produced by Hiland in the two games was a surprise, considering the fact that the Hawks had been so good in both aspects throughout their undefeated run through state and regional competition.
While Hiland did manage to trim down the ugly numbers from game one, it still took a toll in the loss to the host team. Hiland committed eight errors and walked eight batters in the opener, and in this one they tacked on three errors and issued three walks while also committing a couple of mental miscues that hurt the club in the big six-run uprising for South Carolina.
“Yeah, we didn’t play very good baseball,” said Hawks head coach Mike Yoder, who was making his third appearance at the World Series. “All of the walks and errors are pretty uncharacteristic for us. We didn’t do all of the little fundamental things that allowed us to get to the World Series, and that was a little disappointing.”
Yoder said he felt the Hawks may have put too much pressure on themselves as they stepped into the World Series, and both Florida and South Carolina took advantage of every opportunity to blow out the Central regional champs.
Hiland’s bats continued to struggle, and outside of one game at the Central regional, hits have been tough to come by for this group. The Central regional champs again managed just five hits versus South Carolina, and once again what had been the strength for Hiland, pitching and defense, kind of fell apart for the Hawks.
The host team from Easley jumped all over Central starter Ryan Hershberger for two runs in the first inning, and after Hershberger sailed through the second and seemed to have finally gotten his feet under him, it all came crashing down in the third.
Hershberger gave up a double, another batter reached on a fielder’s choice, then came two straight singles and a sacrifice fly, and then Gabe Laphann slapped a two-run double before Banks Starbuck put the exclamation point on the game by smoking a two-run home run to put the host team ahead for good at 8-0.
That was all the scoring in the game as Kevin Borntrager would relieve Hershberger and throw very well, allowing just two walks while striking out three over three and one-third innings of tremendous relief.
However, the combination of South Carolina’s Brayden Owens, who picked up the win; Parker Cassel; Will James; and Austin Tanksley proved to be too much for Hiland’s bats. Ricky Miller was the lone Central player to collect multiple hits, going 2-of-3 on the day.
“This was a big step up for us from a competition standpoint,” Yoder said. “I thought the Central region was a little down from prior years, but that doesn’t take anything away from what these kids have accomplished. It was a great summer, and these guys put in the time to make themselves better baseball players, and that is the most important thing we can get out of this World Series run.”
Yoder said that much like the Southeast team from Florida that had dealt the Hawks a 19-9 loss in the opening game, the team from South Carolina was strong, fundamental and capable of beating a lot of teams.
Walks and errors doom Hawks in World Series opening loss to Southeast
After giving up a scant three runs in five games at the Central regional in Peru, Illinois, Mike Yoder’s pitching crew for the 15- and 16-year-old Hiland Senior Little League team felt it was ready to face whatever obstacles came their way in the tournament opener of the Senior Little League World Series in Easley, South Carolina, on Sunday, July 29.
Ready or not, the Hawks were greeted rather rudely by the Florida team representing the Southeast.
By the time the second inning had cleared, Southeast held a dominating 7-0 lead over Central, and although the Hawks scrapped and clawed their way back to within three at 11-8, the mountain was simply too large to overcome, and the Hawks fell 19-9 to drop into the losers’ bracket.
For Hiland the step up in competition was a huge one as it has not faced the kind of talent that was on display for a Florida team that seemed bent on claiming the World Series title.
“I think they are the best team we have seen here at this tournament,” Hiland coach Mike Yoder said. “We have not seen any teams this summer that are better than that. That’s a terrific team with a load of talent.”
The game represented a complete 180-degree turn from the style of play that had gotten the Hawks to the World Series. Built on pitching and defense, Hiland pitchers were clipped for 14 hits, allowed eight walks and struggled to miss many bats. The defense also didn’t help, committing five errors that led to a whopping eight unearned runs.
“We shot ourselves in the foot multiple times,” Yoder said. “We just put ourselves in such a huge hole. We never could dig all the way out.”
The biggest contribution for Southeast came via the long ball. Andrew Jenner delivered a two-run home run in the first inning to help set the tone for the game. Devin Makovsky singled to begin the game, and then Jenner mashed a Korrie Hostetler offering over the wall in center for the 2-0 lead right out of the gate.
Things got worse for Central in the second inning. In that fateful second inning Hiland’s defense threw out two Southeast base runners, and Southeast still managed to put up five runs.
Southeast’s lead-off hitter got on after a wild pitch was cut down on a savvy play by Central third-baseman Casey Kalman. Catcher Ryan Hershberger then gunned down a would-be base stealer, and it looked like the Hawks would cruise through the second inning on the back of those two defensive gems. However, a single, an error at short by Andy Miller and a walk loaded the bases, and Hostetler balked in a run and issued another walk.
A 3-0 deficit grew to 7-0 on one swing of the bat when Coby Mayo whacked a Hostetler pitch over the fence in left-center for a grand slam. Kalman would come on in relief but would not record an out, allowing three runs on four walks. Michael Shoup eventually ended the nightmare inning, but the damage was done.
The lead would grow to 11-0 in the bottom of the third when Jenner greeted Shoup with a home run. The Hawks would finally get on the board in the top of the fourth when Andy Miller scored without the benefit of a hit, and Shoup did a nice job of sailing through the bottom of the inning, setting the stage for a wild Central bid at a comeback.
“Our kids never stopped fighting,” Yoder said. “That in itself is pretty impressive. We could have given up, but these guys stayed positive and never gave up, and we actually gave ourselves an opportunity to come back and get back into the game to win it.”
The comeback was driven by the Southeast pitchers’ inability to throw strikes, and Central found itself right back in the hunt, thanks to that generous gesture. A pair of walks started the frame, and Logan Miller slammed a single to load the bases. Drew Yoder then drew a walk, forcing home a run. Tyler Kline and Andy Miller followed suit, and their walks trimmed the Southeast lead to 11-4.
Hershberger stroked a single to left for another run before walks to Kalman and Ricky Miller made things more interesting at 11-7. A walk to Logan Miller forced in the inning’s seventh run before Drew Yoder popped out to end the marathon inning.
The Hawks had plated seven runs on just two hits, Southeast pitchers doling out eight free passes.
Southeast would tally a single marker in the bottom of the fifth, but Hiland would come right back in the top of the sixth when Andy Miller doubled and scored on Ricky Miller’s single.
Trailing just 12-9, Central had worked its way back into contention and had Southeast in its crosshair, but in the bottom of the sixth everything came unglued for the Hawks.
With Tyler Kline pitching much of the sixth, a double, an error and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out, and Justin Chung laced a single to make it 13-9. A sacrifice fly and a single off the bat of Makovsky made it 15-9. A wild series of errors on a rundown allowed Southeast to plate two more runs, and coach Yoder summoned Andy Miller in to face Mayo.
The big slugger fouled off two balls before depositing the next one over the fence in center field, and Southeast had a walk-off home run win at 19-9.
Despite scoring nine runs, the Hawks managed just five hits off of five Southeast pitchers. Andy Miller was the lone Central player to find much success, collecting two hits and scoring three runs on the night. For Southeast, Jenner went 4-for-4, scoring four runs and driving in four with a pair of taters while Mayo cleaned up, driving in six on the strength of two home runs.