The Hiland softball team overcame a Newcomerstown three-run first inning with some late clutch hitting to down the visiting Lady Trojans 10-4 in IVC play Monday, improving to 3-6 on the season.
While 3-6 may not be anyone’s idea of success, consider that the program only won three games all of last season. So, that’s a good thing, right?
Not so fast.
While Hiland first year coach Jason Hazen is glad his team is making strides in the right direction, he has higher expectations for his girls. And for him, it’s all about bringing a new attitude.
“We lost to Coshocton last week in the eighth inning, and we had Ridgewood down by two in the seventh. We could easily be 5-4 right now,” said Hazen.
That’s why this Hiland softball 3-6 is not the usual Hiland 3-6.
“When I first got hired in I didn’t know anything about the IVC besides Strasburg and Garaway,” said Hazen. “I told the girls I don’t know anything about Malvern, but they’re coming to our place and they’re gonna be in trouble. That’s no slight to them, it’s just a mentality we want to bring to each game.”
He also knows it’s all about being competitive every time you step on the field, and for the most part this season, his Hawks have done just that. Coming from a successful program like Hillsdale, Hazen hopes to ingrain that attitude into the very core of who his team will become.
“I’ve tried to bring the winning mentality with me. At Hillsdale you expect to win every day. I don’t care if you’re playing Strasburg or Garaway – when you go out there, you expect to win,” said Hazen. “I told the girls the first day, no matter who you’re playing, when you step out on that field you need to believe you can win. If you go out thinking you’re going to lose, you will.”
While playing with that attitude, Hazen also understands that right now they’re facing an uphill battle when it comes to the IVC.
“We might not win them all, but we’re going to be competitive,” said Hazen. “Strasburg and Garaway, those are both elite programs. Right now we have to beat who we can beat, and build to the point where we can compete on a higher level.”
Monday’s win over Newcomerstown was a prime example. The visitors jumped on Hiland early with three in the first, and instead of getting down as they may have in the past, Hiland chipped away with one in the bottom of the inning to stay close.
“We seem to dig a hole for ourselves a lot,” said Hazen. “Right now we’re averaging giving up four runs in the first inning every game. It’s killing us. I hate playing from behind. It makes so you can’t be as aggressive as you want to be.”
Aggressive or not, the Hawks continued to force the issue and tied the game at four with a three-spot of their own in the second without benefit of a hit.
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The game remained knotted at 4 until the bottom of the fifth, when Hiland struck for four runs with two outs in a rally that was capped by Hailey Schrock’s 2-RBI double. They then poured it on in the bottom of the sixth with two more runs on the strength of back-to-back doubles by Bryn McVicker and Lexi Kline.
The heart of this team is growing by the game.
“Day one when I first came in I said no matter what happens, you never quit, you never get down,” said Hazen. “And all year, whenever we’ve fallen behind this team has never quit.”
Nikki Keim got the win on the mound for the Hawks, who host Malvern Tuesday in a makeup game. As for the rest of the season, only time will tell how much growth there can be in one year. But one thing you can certainly count on, is that this team will lay it on the line every time they step on the field.
As for being able to eventually compete with the elites? “With the facilities we have, with the girls we have, that’s my goal,” said Hazen.
As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day.