Hiland rode a four-hit night by Tyson Gingerich and a strong outing by starter Braden Mast to roll past Martins Ferry 10-0 in six innings to end the Purple Riders’ magical post-season run.
It is said sometimes the best place to hide is in plain sight. Martins Ferry head coach Anthony Reasbeck was quoted in a recent article of The Times Leader, describing the Hawks as a team “that doesn’t wow you.” While at first blush the comment might seem slightly offensive, when you really look at it, you kind of understand why it was said.
There is no one thing that stands out as to why Hiland has such a high rate of success. But the thing they have been best at this season is at the end of the game they have been ahead.
The tone for the game was set right from the start as the Purple Riders got a one-out walk to Drake Dobson and a Jake Probst single to threaten early, only to see Mast get a strikeout at a critical time before Mitch Massaro came bolting in on a sinking soft liner to make a great grab in right to end the threat.
Hiland then proceeded to get a leadoff single by Chris Kline, who stole second and was driven in by Tyson Gingerich for a quick 1-0 Hiland advantage. Gingerich stole second and scored on a clutch two-out line single to right by Andy Miller.
Hiland 2, Martins Ferry 0.
Mast was much sharper in the second, sandwiching a pair of strikeouts around a slow bouncer to second before the offense got back to work.
Michael Miller got on board on a one-out error, which was followed by a Derek Miller single. After starter Austin Bassa struck out Kline, it looked as if the Purple Riders might escape more damage, but a Gingerich single and a wild pitch gave Hiland two more for a 4-0 lead.
Mast then ran into trouble in the top of the third when Corey Bennett blasted a deep double to center to lead off the inning. With the top of the order up and a man on second, Mast got a grounder to short and another little floater to Kline to get two outs. After walking Probst, Mast struck out Ferry’s cleanup hitter Jake Johnson to get out of that jam.
As the middle innings flew by with little fanfare, Martins Ferry had something going again in the top of the fifth. Still down 4-0, the Purple Riders would get a flicker of hope when Bennett led off with a single. After a blown double-play ball resulted in only a fielder’s choice, and a swinging third strike in the dirt put another man on, it again seemed as if Martins Ferry might push across a run. But the defense came up big for Hiland when a one-hop smash was nicely handled by Gingerich and a 4-6-3 double play got them out of harm’s way. The Hawks then essentially put the game on ice in the bottom.
Gingerich led off with a bunt single, stole second and moved to third on a Bryan Yoder fly ball to center. After Ryan Hershberger reached on an error and stole second, Andy Miller stroked a double to right to drive in two for a 6-0 Hiland lead. Miller would score on a Mast infield single, and it was quickly 7-0 Hawks in the fifth.
“We hit the ball well today,” Hiland head coach Tom Gibson said. “Bassa is a good pitcher; we just hit him today. And then, you give us a couple errors, we tend to take advantage of it.”
Getting men into scoring position also played a big part in Hiland pushing across runs. “We felt like we could run today, and we did,” Gibson said. “This turf played right into our strength with our team speed.”
Hiland would close out the game in the sixth when they pushed across another three runs in a rally that included Gingerich’s fourth hit, a two-RBI single by Hershberger and a walk-off game ending single by Mast for the 10-0 final.
In the end it was the Hiland recipe for success that Reasbeck had feared: score early, pitch well, play clean defense and continue to pile on.
In addition to Gingerich’s monster night at the plate, which saw him score three times and drive in two, Andy Miller’s two hits produced three runs, and Mast’s pair of singles drove in two. Bennett’s two hits led the Purple Riders.
Mast went the full six innings for Hiland, tossing a three-hit shutout, striking out seven and walking three for the win. Bassa took the loss, surrendering only three earned runs, seven total on nine hits while striking out four and walking one.
“Braden was good,” Gibson said. “He walked more than I like, and he got behind early in the game, but I thought there were a lot of pitches that were right there that could’ve just as easily been strikes. But he hung in there and made some big pitches and got out of some jams on his own, and that’s good.”
Hiland’s attention now turns to Saturday’s regional final foe, Wheelersburg, in a rematch of last year’s regional final that saw the Hawks advance to a state title.
“It’s going to be a good game,” Gibson said. “I’ve seen Wheelersburg play. They’re very talented.”