After a horrifying start to the softball season, the Hiland Lady Hawks have found new life and a new joy in playing the game. That has resulted in more confidence and a complete turnaround from the numerous blowouts they endured early in the season.
The most recent joyful moment cane in a 16-6 victory in six innings over Malvern on Friday, April 27 at Hiland High School.
“The girls are having fun. You can see it on their faces,” second-year head coach Jason Hazen said.
The philosophy for Hiland has been simple: get your hacks at the plate, something that is needed because Hiland’s defense has struggled much of the year.
“If we are going to boot the ball around, we better score some runs,” Hazen said. “One through nine we had girls attacking at the plate tonight. Amber Yoder and Britt Troyer both hit the ball well tonight. Hannah Gerber is just on fire, and even someone like Sarah Custer, who hasn’t played for several years, looked good. She is a work in process, but the talent is there, and she is separating herself from the other right fielders.”
The Hornets struck first in the opening inning, plating one run on two hits, but the Lady Hawks roared right back to score three in their half of the inning.
With one out Britt Troyer and Hannah Gerber singled, and they walked home on Brynley McVicker’s three-run bomb.
Malvern responded by scoring a pair off starting pitcher Cheyenne Schrock to tie the score in the top of the second, but the Lady Hawks went right back to work at the plate in the bottom of the inning. Natalie Weaver singled, and after she was forced out at second on a ground ball off the bat of Sarah Custer, Sarah Keim reached on an error. Troyer stroked her second single, Gerber delivered a two-run triple and McVicker delivered again, this time with a run-scoring single that gave Hiland a 7-3 advantage.
After Schrock cruised through the third inning, Hiland really put the clamps on Malvern by posting a six-run third inning. Amber Yoder led off with a double, and with two outs Sara Keim tripled and then scored on Troyer’s third single of the day. Gerber singled, and Malvern chose to walk McVicker to load the bases. Lexi Kline made the Hornets pay by lashing a bases-clearing double to make it 10-3. Nikole Keim singled, and Yoder would mash her second hit of the inning to give the Lady Hawks a comfortable 13-3 lead.
Malvern nicked Schrock for a single tally in the fourth and got another one back in the sixth inning, Sara Keim also scoring an RBI single for Hiland to make it 14-6. Hiland needed two runs to end the game early and got it in the bottom of the sixth.
With two outs Troyer and Gerber each collected her fourth hit of the game. McVicker then lined a shot into the gap in left center, and both runners were on the move. The throw came in to third base to try to get the sliding Gerber, but the ball ricocheted off her helmet into foul grounds. She got up quickly and raced home with the game-ending run.
Hiland hammered out 21 hits in the onslaught with Troyer and Gerber each collecting four, McVicker and Yoder each getting three, and Kline and Sara Keim each adding a pair. Schrock went the distance on the mound, dancing around 11 hits, walking one while striking out three. More importantly the defense did not commit an error in the win, a rarity for the Lady Hawks.
“That was the first time all season we have gotten cleanly though a game without an error, and that is very encouraging,” Hazen said. “Fielding takes longer to pick up from a fundamental standpoint than hitting does, and we have to continue to work with our kids at a young age to learn those fundamentals.”
After a horrendous start to the year, Hiland seems to be improving rapidly. Now at 4-10 on the season, Hazen said the team’s play has been fun to watch. He contrasted his team’s earlier game in which they were drilled by Garaway to the more recent 5-0 loss to the Lady Pirates.
Hazen said that despite the loss, seeing his team compete with a program the quality of Garaway’s is exciting. It has been a huge turn-around for Hiland over the past 20 days.
“Two and a half weeks ago I was about ready to pull out all of my hair,” Hazen said with a laugh. “But we have kept working toward our goals, and it is starting to pay off. We couldn’t make a play on defense. But lately we haven’t been run-ruled. We’ve been in every single game, and it has been fun to watch our progress. Today before our game I could see how loose we were, but they also realize when game time comes it’s about taking care of business, and Sara Keim has been instrumental and been a great leader for us in that aspect.”