Sometimes the biggest deterrent to playing well is playing a team you’re supposed to pummel. The Hiland Hawks were expected to drill visiting Malvern in their opening tournament game.
Hiland came into its Div. IV sectional opener against Malvern as a monstrous favorite. Hiland has but two losses this season and was the top seed, taking on a low seed in Malvern in their Tuesday, May 14 game at Lehman Field in Berlin.
So when the Hawks found themselves trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the second inning, it was a little bit strange for everyone involved.
However, Hiland righted the ship, took advantage of some shoddy fielding and started to rack up some hits in bunches, and it all added up to an 11-1 victory for Hiland.
“I thought we came out a little flat and maybe kind of took things for granted,” Hiland head coach Chris Dages said. “Sometimes we struggle through the lineup the first time through and make adjustments, and we did that tonight.”
The ominous note started in the top of the first after Hiland starter Ryan Hershberger struck out the first two batters. He then hit a batter and gave up two singles for the Hornets’ first and only run of the game.
Hiland came in and got singles from Hershberger and Andy Miller and a Drew Yoder walk, but Kevin Borntrager grounded out to third to end the threat.
The rest of the way Hershberger allowed just one runner to get as far as second base as Hiland took command.
“That’s Hersh, just going out and doing his job,” Dages said. “They kind of were hitting his off-speed stuff, so we talked and told him to stick with the fastball, and he was dominant from there.”
Some weak fielding led to Hiland’s four-run surge in the bottom of the second. With one out Ricky Miller hit a high pop in the infield that was dropped, and Brett Miller’s ground ball to short went for a second error. Tyler Kline’s sharp grounder then went through Drew Hutchison at short for an error and a run to tie the game. Hershberger raked his second single, a bullet to left, and Andy Miller followed with a sacrifice fly. One out later Casey Kalman smoked a shot to left to make it 4-1.
“Our top of the order has been a catalyst for us all season,” Dages said. “They always seem to get us going.”
Hiland loaded the bases without recording a hit in the third but left them loaded, but they came right back in the fourth inning when they put up another four-spot.
Andy Miller socked a single to begin the inning, and Kalman sacrificed him to second. Another Malvern error opened the door, and Borntrager made the Hornets pay by crushing a double to the wall in right-center. Logan Miller grounded out, and after Ricky Miller drew a walk, Brett Miller stroked a shot to center to plate two more to make it 8-1.
Hershberger continued to mow down Hornets, and Hiland came back in for two more runs in the fifth inning. With one out Kalman and Jared Hostetler delivered singles. Borntrager grounded out to third to advance both runners, and Logan Miller then ripped a triple to center to make it 10-1. With the 10-run rule within reach, Ricky Miller grounded out to extend the game.
It only delayed the inevitable, and Casey Lowe came to the mound in relief of Hershberger and picked up where the starter left off, shutting down Malvern to set the table for the final at-bat.
Brett Miller doubled to center to start the bottom of the sixth, Tyler Kline walked and Hershberger singled to load the bases for Andy Miller, who delivered a long fly to right field that was plenty deep enough to send Brett Miller home to invoke the 10-run rule.
Hershberger picked up the win to improve his record to 7-0, allowing just two hits through five innings, striking out six and walking a pair. Lowe walked and hit a batter and struck out two in his inning of work.
Hershberger helped himself by delivering three hits, scoring one and driving one in while stealing a base. Andy Miller and Kalman each pounded a pair of hits with Miller adding two RBI. Jared Hostetler scored twice, Logan Miller drove in three runs with his triple and Kline scored a run, drove in two and stole two bases.
The victory sets up a date with number-two-seed Toronto, which jumped into Hiland’s bracket to face the Hawks earlier than expected.