In order to gain some perspective on how a baseball team gets to 25-0 on a season, one need look no further than the Hiland Hawks’ team earned run average to understand.
With a paltry 0.89 earned run average, which is the number of earned runs the Hawks’ pitchers give up on average during a seven-inning game, it’s pretty easy to see exactly why the Hawks are currently undefeated at 25-0.
Hiland’s top two starters, Braden Mast and Mitch Massaro, have ERAs currently standing at 0.23 and 0.51, respectively. Mast’s numbers alone are staggering, the senior right-hander having gone 1-2-3 in 16 of his 30 innings, having struck out 41 and walked just six while limiting opposing hitters to a paltry batting average of .094. Massaro isn’t far behind, and reliever Derek Miller has been as good as gold out of the Hawks’ bullpen, boasting a 1.18 ERA with opposing hitters being held to a .113 batting average.
However, on Friday, May 13 at Lehman Field in Berlin, it was none of those three that toed the rubber in a split double-header with Sandy Valley and Tuscarawas Central Catholic, two solid Inter-Valley Conference foes.
While the star pitchers were nowhere to be seen as far as mound work, Hiland showed off its wealth of pitching depth when Damien Kandel tossed a no-hitter in an 11-0 win against the Saints and Bryan Yoder hurled a one-hitter in stymying the Cardinals in a 6-0 win.
Yoder twirled six shutout innings of one-hit baseball, walking three while striking out four against a dangerous Sandy Valley team that is still in the state tournament chase.
Yoder, Hiland’s Eastern District First-Team catcher, has yet to give up a run in eight innings, and has been limited on the mound due to arm issues, but he showed he has overcome those in looking extremely sharp in the opener of the double-header.
The lone hit for the Cardinals was an infield variety on a ground ball between first and second base, otherwise it would have been two no-hitters on the night.
Kandel has been the surprise hit of the season for Tom Gibson’s mound crew. The junior wasn’t even on the radar in terms of pitching for this year’s varsity squad, but he worked diligently in tweaking his mechanics over the winter, and a new pitcher was born.
Kandel said working with pitching guru Nick Venuto, Malone University pitching coach Kyle Hallock and Hiland pitching coach Bradley Schlabach has helped him immensely, and because of that work his confidence has soared. In 30 innings, Kandel is 4-0 with a sparkling 0.70 ERA, allowing just 10 hits.
“Last summer I was hurting myself because I couldn’t throw strikes,” Kandel said. “My fundamentals were bad. But this winter, coming in to work with Nick Venuto really helped me get my form down and the benefits are really paying off. Coach said he was going to give me every opportunity to prove myself this season, and I wanted to give myself the best chance to be the best I could be.”
Against TCC, he allowed very few hard hit balls on the night, although the game certainly did not lack for drama on the game’s final at bat.
With two outs in the final inning, TCC four-hole hitter Austin Dick hit a soft line-drive right down the third base line. Third baseman Braden Mast went airborne, making a diving catch of the hit and taking away what could have potentially been the first hit of the night for the Saints.
Mast may have been the only person in the park who was unaware of Kandel’s bid for a no-hitter, something he said was probably just as well.
“I had no idea,” Mast said with a laugh. “I didn’t know it was a no-hitter until after the game when someone told me. It’s probably good I didn’t know.”
“I owe him a supper or something,” Kandel said of the catch to end the game. “That was a heck of a play. My defense was great all night. I am just glad I could come out and get a win for our seniors in our final league game to help us stay undefeated in the IVC.”
Kandel was in complete control all night, striking out three and letting his defense make plays. He got all of the offensive help he needed from lead-off hitter Chris Kline who ripped three hits and drove in a pair, Massaro, who scored twice on two hits, Miller, who cranked out three hits and scored twice and Yoder, who brought home three runs.
The only thing that spoiled a perfect game was a fourth-inning walk to Alex Selinsky. Kandel said the final inning was nerve-racking, and he said he knew almost everyone knew he was working on the no-no. As is always the case, everyone in the dugout pretty much kept their distance and nobody brought it up in conversation, since baseball players are the most superstitious athletes around.
“Everyone gave me space and just stood alone at the end of the dugout,” Kandel said. “I acted like I was paying attention and into our at bats, and I tried to act like nothing was going on, but I knew exactly what was going on.”
Kandel credited catcher Cameron Miller with catching a great game, and said that while some of his stuff wasn’t working, he did have one go to pitch that he and his battery mate stayed with.
“My curve ball really wasn’t working, it was off the whole game,” Kandel said. “I only threw three curve balls and one change-up the whole game. But I was able to locate my fastball really well and it was really moving a lot, so we stuck with it.”
Kandel’s rise has been a credit to Hiland’s work with its entire pitching staff. Gibson has made teaching the correct fundamentals of pitching a priority since he took over in 2008, and pitching has been the base of what has been an amazing nine-year run.
“He wasn’t good last year, but he put the work in to make himself a whole lot better,” Gibson said of Kandel. “He deserves it, and he is only going to get better. This whole staff is a credit to the kids, because they are willing to come in and work and make themselves better. We have gotten great pitching because our kids are willing to put the time in.”
Gibson said the progress of Kandel and a healthy Yoder will only add to the team’s ability to go deep into the tournament as the Hawks hope to see a repeat of last season’s state title in Div. III.
“We’ve gotten great pitching from Mitch, Braden and Derek, and now to add Damien and Bryan into the mix really gives us a ton of depth that most teams don’t have,” Gibson said. “That is a massive benefit when we can trot out any number of guys in pressure situations and have faith that they’ll get the job done.”