No opponents could stop the 15- to 16-year-old Hiland Hawks Senior League team from its intended goal of winning a state title. Even Mother Nature took her best shot at derailing the Hiland Senior League program’s monster roll of state title victories, but in the end she too came up short.
While lightning put a momentary halt to the Ohio Senior Little League state championship game between Hiland and Maumee, it could only fend off the inevitable, and the Hawks came out of the delay and rolled to a 10-3 state championship victory that earned the program its ninth consecutive state crown.
Hiland jumped out to an early 4-0 lead before ugly weather reared its head, but not even a 30-minute delay could prevent the Hawks from stepping right back into their focused intentions of winning another title.
“The kids were really excited because they wanted to continue this string of state titles in a bad way,” Hiland head coach Mike Yoder said. “We got tested, and I thought we came through it all pretty well.”
Tyler Kline started the game with a single, Andy Miller followed with a walk and Ryan Hershberger’s sharp ground ball to short was misplayed to load the bases in the top of the first inning. Kline raced home with the game’s first run on a wild pitch, and Casey Kalman drew a walk to reload the bases before lightning sent everyone off the field. Upon returning, the Hawks went right back to work with runs scoring on Ricky Miller’s single and a bases-loaded walk to Logan Miller. After a fielder’s choice cut down Kalman at home plate, Drew Yoder worked a bases-loaded walk, and Hiland had a 4-0 lead.
After a quick 10-pitch inning from Hiland starter Kevin Borntrager, the Hawks came back in to do some more damage.
Andy Miller doubled leading off the second and advanced to third on Hershberger’s ground-out, and after Borntrager walked and stole second, Kalman’s long sacrifice fly plated a run. Ricky Miller singled home Borntrager, and the Hawks lead was at 6-0.
Maumee finally nicked Borntrager for a single tally in the bottom of the third when the Hiland righty allowed three hits and a pair of walks, but he left the bases loaded when he induced an easy fly out to right to end the inning.
The Hawks then successfully put the game out of reach with a four-run fourth inning that set the table for a celebration.
Kline singled. Andy Miller got plunked by a pitch, and after Hershberger popped out, Borntrager hit a sharp ground ball to short. Kline took off for home, and the throw went there, but he quickly scampered back to third to load the bases with one out. Kalman singled to center to score the first run of the inning, and Ricky Miller forced him at second to plate another. With two outs Logan Miller and Drew Yoder produced RBI singles to make it a 10-1 ball game.
Maumee would take advantage of three Borntrager walks in the bottom of the fifth, and an error would allow two runs to come across to make it 10-3, but the Hawks would not falter. Borntrager cruised through the sixth, and after allowing a single to start the seventh, coach Yoder turned to Andy Miller to close things out. Andy Miller induced an easy pop-out and a ground-out to short, ending the game with a looking strikeout to secure a spot at the Peru, Illinois Central Regional.
“Having Andy to close out all three games was a nice luxury,” coach Yoder said. “Overall I thought our pitchers threw pretty well. Bones (Korrie Hostetler), Kobe (Shetler) and Kevin gave us some great starting pitching and put us in position to win. I thought both Michael Shoup and Tyler Kline gave us what we needed in relief too. We just need to cut way back on the walks that we allowed throughout the tournament. We can’t afford to put that many guys on base at the next level.”
For the state championship game, Kalman pounded out a pair of hits, driving in two runs while Ricky Miller collected two RBIs on two base hits. Kline also collected two hits, meaning the lead-off man earned two hits in all four state tournament games.
“He did a nice job of setting the table for us,” coach Yoder said of Kline.
Borntrager went a solid six innings and allowed only one earned run, giving up three hits while striking out three and walking six.
While this team didn’t dominate the way some of Hiland’s recent teams have at the state level, they still managed to get through it unscathed, and this all comes without coach Yoder having seen a whole lot of this team because he did not coach throughout the regular season this summer.
“Now with the state tournament more than one week away, it provides ample opportunity for coach Yoder to see exactly what he has in this group as he prepares some vigorous practices.
“We’re still kind of feeling out who we are,” coach Yoder said. “I still don’t know how good we are or how good we can be. I can’t wait to see how some of these kids respond to the challenge of having some rigorous practices. Neither Casey nor Kevin were here earlier because of vacation, so I am looking forward to seeing them in practice. We are excited to get going, and I guess we are going to find out just how good we are once we get to Peru.”
Until that time comes, the Hawks will be flying high in the wake of the program’s ninth straight state title as the collection of banners continues to grow annually.