The way the second game between the Hiland Hawks and Indian Valley Braves went could not have started out any different than their first contest. It could not have ended any more similar.
Just as it did earlier this season, the Hawks topped the Braves 7-6 on Wednesday, May 2 at Lehman Field in Berlin, but unlike the first encounter when Hiland darted to an early 5-0 lead, this time it was the Braves who jumped out early.
With a howling wind blowing out and ace Cordell Miller on the mound, Indian Valley came roaring out of the gate in a contest that would determine which one-loss team in the IVC South would take command of the league race.
“We came out and jumped on them for five runs in the first inning,” Braves head coach Shannon McComb said. “It’s an emotional game, and they are on an even plane, and we are like a roller coaster going up and down. They came out and answered, and credit them. They came out and got the win.”
For Hiland the second close victory over a program that is hailed as one of the top in the area was another confidence boost.
“It’s great to get a win like that. It is going to be a confidence boost for us,” said Hiland head coach Chris Dages, whose team improved to 20-3 on the year. “We have nothing but respect for Indian Valley and what they do. They have been a good program for a long time, and our guys know that. We stepped up to the challenge today. They got us down early, and it’s not easy to come back against a team like that.”
Mason McKeown and Braeden Lehigh both drew walks to start the game, and Dalton Burcher laid down a sacrifice bunt that turned into a hit when he beat the throw to first. Colbey McBeth then dropped a single to center to plate the game’s first run, and Karson Hartrick rocked a shot to the base of the wall in center to score two more.
Tanner Myers then drove home another run on a fielder’s choice on which Hiland third baseman Ryan Hershberger made a great play down the line, squared and fired a strike to the plate. His throw cut down McBeth by 10 feet, but McBeth jarred the ball out of catcher Cameron Miller to make it 4-0. Ryan Berger’s fielder’s choice brought in another run, and the Braves were smiling at 5-0.
After falling behind, Dages gathered the troops and offered a simple message. There was a lot of game left to play, and they needed to start chipping away.
“I told them just to work back, keep their heads in it, and they did,” Dages said.
If the Hawks needed a jump start against hard-throwing right-hander Cade Williams, they got it. After Williams struck out Michael Miller to start the game, Andy Miller whacked a 1-0 offering from Williams over the wall in left center to make it 5-1. Ryan Hershberger then laced a single to left, advanced on an error on the play, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on another wild pitch to make it 5-2.
Cordell Miller settled in nicely and cruised through the second, as did Williams. After Miller retired the side in order in the third, Hiland went to work on Williams.
Andy Miller was hit by a pitch to start the inning, Hershberger singled him to second, and after Cameron Miller’s sacrifice bunt, Cordell Miller helped himself in all kinds of ways by clocking a towering shot to left that got up in the jet winds and rode them all the way to the top of the hitting building for a home run that tied the score.
After Damien Kandel grounded out, Casey Kalman singled, Derek Burke singled to center and Tyler Kline ripped a hard shot through the left side to plate Kalman for a 6-5 Hiland lead as the Hawks chased Williams and Myers came on in relief.
Indian Valley answered right back in the top of the fourth, scoring a run without the benefit of a hit. Williams drew a walk, went to second on a wild pick-off attempt and advanced on Myers’ sacrifice bunt. He trotted home on Berger’s long sacrifice fly to center to tie the game at 6-6.
The tie didn’t last beyond the end of the inning. Andy Miller and Hershberger singled to start the inning, and again Cameron Miller laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt. It paid off when Cordell Miller racked a single to center for a run. Myers escaped further damage by inducing an inning-ending double play off the bat of Kandel, and despite being out-hit 12-2 at this point, the Braves were down by just a single run.
After the early barrage of runs, it became apparent that both teams would have to scrap to add anything the rest of the way. Cordell Miller worked a perfect fifth, and Myers worked around a Burke infield single.
Hiland head coach Chris Dages turned to Andy Miller in the top of the sixth inning, and although the Braves stung two shots, Hiland made the plays and didn’t allow a base runner. Myers made quick work of the Hawks in the sixth, setting the stage for what Indian Valley hoped was one final shot at redemption.
Myers started the inning by lining a rope to center for an out. Berger then laced a single up the middle, but Kyle Enos hit a fly ball out to center for the second out. McKeown kept the game alive by smashing a single to right to advance Berger to second. Just like the prior contest between the two teams, the Braves had two on and two out in the last inning, looking for a tie. Just as in the first game, they didn’t get it as Lehigh’s hard ground ball up the middle was snared by Kline, who beat McKeown to second by a step to end the game.
“Unfortunately that is two straight losses for us. That’s not a good way to go into a tournament,” McComb said. “Our at-bats have not been very good the last couple of games.”
Hiland hammered out a dozen hits, led by Cordell Miller’s two hits and four RBI, Andy Miller’s three hits and three runs, and Hershberger’s three hits and two runs. Hartrick led Indian Valley’s five-hit effort with a hit and two RBI.
Myers was the hard-luck loser, throwing well in relief, allowing one run on four hits over 3 and one-third innings while Williams was battered for six runs on eight hits in 2 and two-thirds innings of work.
Cordell Miller went five innings and threw well after the ugly first inning. He allowed six runs with five earned, scattering three hits and walking three while tacking on five strikeouts. Andy Miller picked up the save, hurling two innings of scoreless two-hit baseball.