In a rivalry game between two of the Inter-Valley Conference’s best with two strong pitchers on the mound, fans had to have gone to The Hill in Sugarcreek to watch Garaway (5-1) host Hiland (5-0) on Thursday, April 4 with huge expectations.
What they got was not a very good brand of baseball, as neither team played its best. However, Garaway’s Achilles heel showed up as the Pirates coughed up six errors and Hiland came out swinging the sticks to take home an 11-4 victory.
“We made it extremely tough on ourselves, big-time,” Garaway head coach Justin Elmore said. “We minimized the damage in the first, came in and took advantage of some uncharacteristic things by them, and took the lead 3-1 with our ace on the mound. Then we gave them way, way, way, way, way too many extra outs and opportunities.”
With fire-balling ace Josh Yoder on the mound, Garaway had every reason to be confident. However, Hiland head coach Chris Dages had talked to his kids about taking an aggressive approach against Yoder.
“I told the guys he has a really good curve ball and a really good fastball, so we needed to be aggressive with his fastball,” Dages said. “We did that very well. We have tried to take that aggressive approach in games earlier this season, and it got to be where we were swinging at just about everything. Tonight we did a much better job of narrowing down our zone, and we were able to go deeper into counts.”
Hiland struck pay-dirt in the top of the first inning when Andy Miller slashed a two-out double into the left-field corner off of Garaway ace Josh Yoder and came around to score on Casey Kalman’s RBI single.
After Yoder recorded his second strike-out to end the inning, the Pirates answered back by putting up a three-spot in the bottom of the inning, an inning in which they barely put the ball in play.
Ricky Miller struggled to find his control and walked Austin Fearon, Peyton Miller and Dylan Hershberger around a foul-out. Miller then uncorked three wild pitches, and Garaway had built a 3-1 lead.
Despite facing one of the Inter-Valley Conference’s best pitchers, the Hawks began a relentless attack at the plate in the next inning.
Kobe Shetler rifled a double into left field, and after Drew Yoder flew out and Ricky Miller struck out, Yoder issued a rare walk, allowing Tyler Kline to rip a single through the left side to trim the deficit to 3-2. It wasn’t a deficit long as Ryan Hershberger drove a single to center to tie the game and Kline came around to score on a wild pitch to give Hiland a 4-3 lead.
The game was taking on an ugly look, but Dages turned to Kobe Shetler on the mound, and things were about to settle in nicely, at least from Hiland’s perspective.
Shetler allowed a Yoder double and walked Fearon but escaped the second inning by striking out Matt Mullen.
Neither team did anything in the third, but the Hawks assumed command in the top of the fourth. Kline reached on a bunt single and advanced on a throwing error, and Peyton Miller made a sensational play on Hershberger’s shot into the hole at short that went as a single but kept Kline at second. Andy Miller scorched a single to center to move everyone up a base, and Kalman drove a rope to left that skipped by the left fielder and went all the way to the wall, clearing the bases.
When the inning was over, Hiland owned an 8-3 lead. Garaway looked to regain some momentum in the bottom of the inning, and with two outs and two on courtesy of a walk and a hit batter, Fearon stroked a single to right. Hard-charging right fielder Logan Miller flew in, scooped up the ball and fired a strike to home plate, where Kalman was able to apply the tag to Dawson Ley, who was trying to score from second base.
Neither team scored in the fifth, but the Hawks added to their lead in the sixth. An error and two walks loaded the bases, and with two outs another Pirates’ error allowed Hiland to plate two more runs.
For Dages, seeing Shetler come in and produce in a big game was exciting to watch.
“Kobe did exactly what we needed him to do in that situation, which is to throw strikes and give us a chance to get back into a lead,” Dages said. “He threw great, and I had every confidence that he would. He really came through for us.”
Andy Miller relieved Shetler, and Garaway promptly put together another threat with two outs when Cole McDougal and Yoder singled. However, Miller induced Fearon to hit a harmless comebacker to end the inning unscathed.
Hiland tacked on its final run in the seventh when Hershberger stroked his third hit of the game and came around on Kalman’s sacrifice fly. Garaway did manage to produce again in the bottom half of the inning. Mullen singled, and Peyton Miller walked before Zach was safe on a fielder’s choice to load the bases. A run came home when Kory Stress banged into a double play, and Miller recorded a strike-out to end the game.
“It felt like we got a little complacent with the big lead and lost our edge and our focus,” Dages said of the final two innings. “That is something we addressed after the game, and I am sure these guys will clean that up.”
For the most part it was an ugly game all the way around. Hiland pitchers walked nine batters while Garaway issued six free passes. Four runs were scored on wild pitches in the game, and Garaway committed a whopping six errors. Hiland stranded nine base runners, and Garaway left eight on board.
“We have pitched well this season, but until we get better defensively, it doesn’t matter what we do on the mound because we can’t afford to continue to give away outs like we have been,” Elmore said. “We just aren’t good defensively right now. Even at 5-0 coming in, we had not played well defensively, and it bit us tonight. We have to get better, and it has to be a collective effort from our coaching staff and our players.”
Garaway had just four hits, two of them from Yoder, while Hiland did have a strong game at the plate, where it pounded out 11 hits including three from Hershberger and two apiece from Kline, Andy Miller, Shetler and Kalman.
The Hawks touched up Yoder for eight runs in three innings while Fearon allowed three runs in three innings of relief, and Brock Keim allowed one in his single frame of work.
While Ricky Miller allowed the three runs, Shetler worked four scoreless innings of relief to pick up the win, striking out five while allowing two hits. Andy Miller finished up with two innings of one-run ball, striking out three while giving up three hits.
“I’m not putting any more weight on this game than any other game,” Elmore said. “This group is a great group of kids who will work hard to get better; I don’t doubt that. We just have to keep grinding away.”