The harder they throw, the harder they fall?
Okay, that isn’t necessarily how the saying goes, but on Tuesday, May 15 at Minerva High School, the Div. III number-one ranked Hiland Hawks (25-3) had one tough customer to deal with if they wanted to survive and advance in the East District semifinal game versus Edison (14-9).
Hiland’s preparation and game management allowed them to escape with a rugged 3-0 victory that advanced them to the district finals.
The task at hand was to stare down Edison’s hard-throwing Tristan Haught, a big, tough hurler who is bound for Wright State University.
In preparation for Haught, the Hawks took some measures to speed things up as they prepared.
“We’ve been working on that a couple of days straight now,” Hiland pitching coach Brad Schlabach said. “We moved the L-screen in a little bit, and we were piping them in their pretty fast. We had our guys hitting off of 85 [mph], and they were seeing some pretty filthy sliders off the pitching machine, so we were ready.”
They may have been ready, but this game was no picnic against what was probably the best hurler the Hawks have faced this year.
Hiland starting pitcher Cordell Miller has been rock solid all season long, and this was no exception as he did not allow a run through his four innings of work, allowing him to pick up the win and improve his record on the season to 8-0 while lowering his earned run average to 1.84. However, it wasn’t easy as he danced in and out of trouble all night long while holding the Wildcats scoreless.
Miller opened the game by walking the lead-off hitter but then settled in and started knocking guys off with ease for the next eight hitters, whom he sat down in order. Meanwhile, the Hawks started playing small ball in the first inning and never stopped as they quietly built the lead.
Hiland took the early lead in the first off Haught. The hard thrower got the first two Hawks out quickly, but Ryan Hershberger dumped a bloop single into left, and Cameron Miller followed with a shot to right. Cordell Miller then singled sharply to left, and when the left fielder misplayed the ball, Hershberger trotted home for what turned out to be the game-winning run.
The Hawks scored their second unearned run in the next inning. Damien Kandel punched a floater into center to start the frame, and Casey Kalman reached when his sacrifice bunt was mishandled. Haught then picked Kalman off first, leaving Kandel at third with one out. Derek Burke came through, singling to center, and Tyler Kline also singled before Michael Miller banged into a 6-4-3 double play to end the threat there with the Hawks up 2-0.
In the top of the third, Cordell Miller ran into some trouble. With two outs he allowed back-to-back singles that put runners on the corner, but after falling behind to three-hole hitter Connor Hyndman 3-0, Hiland’s ace battled back to a full count and struck out Hyndman looking to end the inning.
Hiland again found itself in a precarious spot in the fourth inning when the Wildcats put a runner on third with two outs. Once again Cordell Miller ran the string to full before collecting another huge strikeout.
The Hawk added a huge insurance run in the bottom of the fourth inning when Cordell Miller singled, advanced to second on a ground out and scored easily when Kalman rifled a shot down the left-field line.
At that point Hiland skipper Chris Dages went to his bullpen because Cordell Miller had thrown a whopping 76 pitches through four frames. Dages handed the ball to Ryan Hershberger, who gave up a single and saw the Wildcats put runners on second and third on an error by center fielder Tyler Kline. However, he too worked out of a tough spot when he induced an inning-ending ground out to short.
Dages then went to his closer, Andy Miller, for the final two innings, and the junior didn’t disappoint.
While Haught was doing his thing, shutting down the Hawks’ offense, Andy Miller matched him with a little help from his friends. Haught hit a shot to right to open the inning, but Kandle closed and made a sensational diving catch, matching Burke’s first-inning web gem. He then got a ground out and gave up a two-out single, but Kline, who had moved to short when Andy Miller came on to pitch, made a nice snag on a line shot to end the inning. Edison’s last gasp saw them strike out twice around a walk, and Andy Miller got an easy ground out to short to end the contest.
However, despite the game ending in the Hawks’ favor, the excitement wasn’t done as Dages set forth on a quick trek to Wooster, where his wife Deb was about to give birth.
“All three of our guys got into some tighter spots, but they all really battled today,” pitching coach Brad Schlabach said. “Cordell didn’t quite have his best stuff, but that is the sign of a good pitcher when you can put zeroes up and not have your ‘A’ stuff. Cordell was getting up in his pitch count, and his timing was a little off. He battled through it, but we felt it would be more effective to put another guy out there.”