A perfect night for baseball turned out to be a nearly perfect baseball game for those who love pitcher’s duels and well-played baseball.
On May 22 at Lehman Field amidst the tournament run, two juggernauts from their respective divisions got together and played a fascinating baseball game that in the end didn’t mean that much but at the same time meant a lot to the huge crowd that was on hand.
Currently ranked number one in Div. I, Massillon Jackson visited defending Div. III state champion Hiland in a tune-up game that was designed to keep both teams sharp for their regional tournament games later in the week.
The showdown at Lehman Field was at the same time a baseball showcase that felt like an exhibition game, combined with a contest between two juggernauts that wanted to win in a big way.
In the end it turned out to be one of those games that fans could simply sit back and enjoy, knowing each team had bigger fish to fry down the road. The final outcome, with Hiland’s Michael Miller delivering a walk-off single with two outs in the seventh that gave Hiland a 2-1 win, was the icing on the cake for a night that featured two great programs showcasing some impressive pitching and plenty of talent.
“This certainly does a lot to help our confidence,” Hiland coach Tom Gibson said. “We are a little D-III school in Amish Country that took on the big boys. Now they didn’t throw their stud pitcher who throws 93, and this game saw both teams throw a lot of different kids out there on the mound. We get it. It could have been a very different baseball game, but the main point is we hung in there against a great team and played good baseball. That is the important thing for me. Win or lose, it was a great baseball game to be a part of. For us, to lose to them would not have been a big deal, but to win gives us a shot of confidence. To them, it doesn’t mean anything. For both teams it was all about staying sharp.”
Gibson went on to say that should the two teams meet a week from now, it could well be a very different story, but he was grateful for the reigning Div. I poll champs to simply give them a chance to get better.
That didn’t stop both teams from working hard to win the game, and what a game it was.
Jackson took the early lead in the second inning, thanks to a couple of Hiland gifts. The Hawks’ starting pitcher Bryan Yoder hit Jackson superstar hurler Kyle Nicholas in the top of the helmet to start the second inning. Hiland shortstop Chris Kline then booted a routine grounder, and then the Hawks made two plays that prevented the inning from being a huge one. Yoder fielded Davis Graham’s bunt, bobbled it and uncorked a short one-hopper to second baseman Tyson Gingerich, who had hustled over to first base to cover. Somehow, Gingerich managed to dig the throw out of the dirt, leaving runners at second and third. Yoder then walked the bases full before TJ Donley unleashed a wicked line shot single to right-field. Mitch Massaro scooped it up, and while the lead runner scored, Massaro’s throw cut down the sliding Trey Wright at the plate. Yoder then got a one-hopper back to the mound to escape further damage.
Hiland actually used defensive outs as a weapon all night. Jackson is a team that will run relentlessly, but after Yoder was done pitching, he went back behind the plate and proceeded to cut down three Polar Bears trying to advance on the bases.
“We knew they were going to run a lot, but actually, on all of the guys I threw out, I didn’t even know they were going,” Yoder said. “The first two I just blocked in the dirt, and they took off. The last one my view was blocked by the hitter. But Mitch’s throw to the plate was what really got me going.”
With both teams using a host of pitchers throughout the game, neither team could muster much of an offensive threat. Through the middle innings Jackson in particular looked sharp on the mound as the Hawks had trouble producing anything resembling a hit through five innings.
It wouldn’t be until the sixth that the Hawks would finally get a hit, and a Jackson error opened the door for the Hawks to tie the game.
Little-used Michael Miller had drawn a designated hitter assignment for the game, and it turned out to be a great move on Gibson’s part, inserting the junior into the lineup. Miller drew a walk to start the sixth and was bunted to second by Derek Miller. Chris Kline then slapped a grounder to short that was booted for an error, allowing Miller to reach third, and Tyson Gingerich made that hurt when he smacked a hard shot through the hole on the left side of the infield for Hiland’s first hit of the game with Miller scoring the tying run.
Tyson Gingerich ties it 1-1 with Hiland’s first hit of the game in the sixth vs Jackson pic.twitter.com/A0la9XfWNv
— OhioSportsTicket.com (@OhioTicket) May 22, 2017
Damien Kandel then came on to throw the seventh inning for Hiland and got through a clean inning, setting the table for a wild finish.
After Andy Miller struck out against Ben Warren, Massaro drew a walk, and Derek Burke pinch-ran for him. Braden Mast then laid down a sacrifice bunt, moving Burke to second, bringing Michael Miller back to the dish with the game in the balance.
Miller fouled off a couple of Warren offerings, and the count went to 2-2 before Miller stayed back on a Warren off-speed pitch and laced a single to center. With Burke on the move, the throw from center came in hot and a bit high, allowing Burke to slide in under the tag to give the Hawks a win.
Couple of jrs. make it happen for Hawks. Michael Miller singles home Derek Burke as Hawks defeat Jackson 3-1 in a walk-off pic.twitter.com/vDQU0OhHh5
— OhioSportsTicket.com (@OhioTicket) May 22, 2017
“I was excited when I got to the park and saw my name in the lineup,” Michael Miller said. “I wanted to try not to do too much and just do my job. That last at bat I was looking to make good contact on whatever he threw me with two strikes and put it in play. I stayed back and hit it back up the middle. I knew right away when I put the swing on it was going to be a hit. Then I just got down to first and stopped and watched the play at home.”
Regardless of who won or lost, Gibson said both teams felt they got out of the game what they wanted to get as they gear up for regional play. It was a great baseball game filled with drama that allowed each team to stay focused and to get in some much-needed work to stay sharp.
“We really appreciate them coming down here to play us at this point in the year,” Gibson said. “Tonight was how baseball is supposed to be played. This game was about having a chance to prepare for what is down the road in the tournament for both of us. That is what we get the most out of from tonight.”
As a thank you, the Hawks’ moms made a mouthwatering meal to feed both teams following the game, which only added to the festive atmosphere of the night.