The Hiland Hawks pounded their way through the first inning of Monday night’s district semifinal matchup in New Concord, putting up seven runs on their way to a dominating 12-2 rout of River.
Some would say Hiland may not have been at its best in the field or on the mound, but the offense was purring like a fine-tuned machine with a ton of horses under the hood as the Hawks rolled through the entire lineup before a single out was recorded.
After starting pitcher Braden Mast and the Hawks retired the Pilots in the top of the first, Hiland came in and got to work. Chris Kline got on board with a shot to third that was stabbed by a diving Grant Williams, but Williams couldn’t get the speedy Kline at first. Tyson Gingerich followed with a triple to left-center for a 1-0 lead before scoring on a wild pitch to make it 2-0. Bryan Yoder then hammered a one-hopper off the left field wall for a double and scored on Ryan Hershberger’s bullet for a single to left to give the Hawks a 3-0 advantage.
But they weren’t quite done … not even close.
After Andy Miller and Mitch Massaro walked to load the bases, Mast doubled down the left field line for two more and a 5-0 lead. RBI ground balls by Cameron Miller and Kline, who was up for the second time in the inning, closed the scoring for Hiland, but they left the inning with a commanding 7-0 lead after one.
“The way we came out and hit the ball in the first inning was impressive,” Hiland head coach Tom Gibson said. “Those were all hard-hit shots. Nothing was a gimme. They helped us some, but we helped them too, that one inning.”
That one inning came the very next at bat.
With Mast on the hill, the lead seemed more than safe, but as if feeling bad for the carnage just caused, the Hawks gave two back. A leadoff Trey Isaly single, a walk and back-to-back throwing errors in the infield gave the first run to the Pilots before a bases-loaded walk by Mast plated the second. But a nifty 9-3 double play on a shallow liner to Massaro righted the ship and got Hiland out of the inning and back to work.
Andy Miller was on first when his one-out grounder was mishandled, and then Massaro absolutely smoked a double up the alley in right to drive Miller in to get it back to a 8-2 lead for the Hawks.
Mast responded to that rally by taking down River in order with a pair of Ks in the top of the third, and Hiland cranked up the engines once again. But this time the runs came gift wrapped by the Pilots.
A couple of walks to Gingerich and Hershberger and an infield single to Massaro loaded the bases with two outs. Then a pair of costly errors gave Hiland a 10-2 bulge, and the Pilots saw the Hawks begin to disappear over the horizon. When Hiland tacked on two more in the bottom of the fifth with the final run coming on a Derek Miller RBI bunt single with the runner on third, the Pilots’ fate was sealed as if there was ever a doubt after the first inning eruption.
“I’m very happy with the way we came out hitting the ball,” Gibson said. “We have a lot of guys who have been struggling at the plate who seem to be finding it at the right time. Hopefully we can keep it up going forward.”
If he was happy with the bats, the skipper wasn’t as impressed with his charge in the field, although beyond the rough second frame, Hiland played a very nice game defensively.
“You can’t make your pitcher throw that many pitches,” Gibson said. “We had two defensive plays that should’ve been made but weren’t. I told them afterwards, in a game like this it’s not going to hurt you too much, but against a quality team going forward, they could make you pay in a big way. So we can’t let that happen again.”
Although still effective, Mast wasn’t his usual pinpoint self, logging three walks and a hit batter but still managing to surrender only one earned run on a mere two hits while striking out eight in his five innings of work to go 8-0 on the campaign.
But the big story was the big sticks for the Hawks.
Mast had a nice night for Hiland, logging three hits and driving in two, while Gingerich, Yoder, Hershberger and Massaro all had two knocks apiece. The Hawks pounded out 14 hits with eight different batters to drive in runs for Hiland, now 26-0 as they head into Wednesday’s district final clash with Tusky Valley, which defeated much-higher-seeded Fort Fry 3-1 in Monday’s other semifinal matchup. Wednesday’s district final will be played at Garaway High School’s field in Sugarcreek at 5 p.m.
Regardless of who is next up on the bracket, Gibson just hopes his team continues to play clean, and he was happy with their effort on this night.
“We had one ugly inning. It was a good win.”