The Hiland Hawks wanted nothing more than to get their new head coach Chris Dages his first varsity baseball win when they traveled to East Canton to face the Hornets on Monday, March 26. They did so in a huge way, exploding for a ton of runs in a 21-0 blowout win.
Dages, who served Hiland’s junior varsity coach since 2008, earned his shot at guiding a Hiland program that has grown into one of the state’s top small-school programs after Tom Gibson stepped down after last year’s state runner-up finish..
The Hawks ushered in the Dages Era by bludgeoning the Hornets from the start.
“It was worth waiting for. It felt good,” Dages said of the victory. “Walking down to the third-base coaching box was a great feeling. I got all tingly. It was good stuff, especially the way we attacked at the plate.”
Hiland started the assault on a quartet of Hornets’ pitchers from the first batter and never let off the gas pedal.
East Canton pitcher Austin Hamilton plunked both lead-off hitter Tyler Kline and second hitter Michael Miller, setting the stage for a four-run first inning.
Ryan Hershberger lashed a single to center to score Hiland’s first run. After Cameron Miller flew out and Cordell Miller grounded out, Hamilton walked Andy Miller and Damien Kandel, forcing in a run. Ricky Miller then singled, giving Hiland a 4-0 lead.
After Miller cruised through the second inning, the Hawks went right back to work on Hamilton. Kline singled to right, and Michael Miller reached on a fielder’s choice. With one out, Cameron Miller crushed a single to plate a run, and Cordell Miller followed suit. Andy Miller walked before Kandel nailed a two-run double to make it 8-0. Ricky Miller hit into a run-scoring ground-out, and Derek Burke singled in another run to make it 10-0.
“Our approach was good. It was aggressive,” Dages said. “We had a scrimmage last week, and the swings didn’t look so great. We talked some about it and shot videos and spent a lot of time between then and now working on our swings, and you could tell the difference tonight. We came out with confidence and took some good swings. They did all the things we asked them to do.”
Cordell Miller got into a bit of trouble in the second when he gave up a walk and a single but induced a lazy fly-out to end the inning.
Hiland picked up its 11th run on Cordell Miller’s RBI single in the third inning, and in the bottom of that inning, he hit a batter but got some help from his defense with an inning-ending double play.
The Hawks failed to score in the fourth inning, and Mast replaced Cordell Miller on the mound. He issued a pair of walks but escaped on a called third strike to end the inning.
The Hawks then put any doubt as to the outcome to bed in the fifth by plating 10 runs. In the inning Kevin Borntrager and Mast both lashed out a pair of hits, Andy Miller destroyed an offering down the left-field line for a run-scoring double, Casey Kalman drove home a run with a single, and both Drew Yoder and Alec Yoder connected for run-scoring singles as the Hawks went station to station. Mast closed down the game in the fifth, and Dages had his first varsity win.
“I think this is good for the guys from a confidence sense,” Dages said of the offensive explosion. “We’ve been inside now for so long. It was nice to just get outside and get some meaningful at-bats against some real competition.”
Hiland hammered out 17 hits and did not commit an error in the field. Andy Miller, Cordell Miller, Borntrager and Mast each collected a pair of hits while nine other Hawks all tallied a hit apiece. Kandel drove in four runs, Ricky Miller drove home three, and Andy Miller and Cordell Miller both knocked home a pair. Michael Miller and Andy Miller each scored three times while Kandel, Mast and Kline all crossed home plate twice.
On the mound Cordell Miller twirled three scoreless frames, allowing one hit while striking out one and walking one. Mast didn’t allow any runs nor hits, struck out two and walked four in his two innings. Andrew Gothard collected the lone hit for East Canton.
“It was nice to see Cordell go out there and throw strikes,” Dages said of his winning pitcher. “He has worked hard this winter, and so far it is paying off.”
Mast experienced his first varsity action and came through unscathed. Dages said he is in line to be one of a handful of Hawks who will factor into the pitching staff this season.
“We’re deep on the mound,” Dages said. “I told Cordell before the game, and I tell all the guys we have seven guys in the field behind them eager to make a play, so don’t be afraid to throw strikes and let hitters put the ball in play.”