Playing on the big stage at Canal Park in Akron Ohio, on the home field of the Cleveland Indians Double-A Akron Rubber Ducks, the Hiland Hawks didn’t fall to the pressure of playing on the big stage or playing a Div. I school in Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
Hiland got a major league effort on the mound from starter Mitch Massaro and although the bats were nearly non-existent, Hiland took advantage of some shoddy fielding by Brecksville-Broadview Heights to take home a 3-1 victory.
The win helped the Hawks advance to 19-0 on the season.
“I thought we did a good job of moving runners into scoring position when we had the opportunities to do so, but we have to get the big hits when those opportunities arise,” said Hiland coach Tom Gibson. “We just didn’t the ball with a lot of authority tonight.”
The team that hit the ball harder did not score runs, as Massaro battled through a couple of dangerous situations throughout the evening. It started in the first when Brecksville-Broadview Heights put a runner ion scoring position, but with two outs right-fielder Damien Kandel ran down a long bomb in right.
“That was really a great catch,” Gibson said.
It also helped set the theme for the game, that of Hiland making plays and Brecksville-Broadview Heights struggling to do so.
Hiland took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second without hitting a ball out of the infield. An infield chopper that turned into a hit off the bat of Ryan Hershberger, an error and another error on Braden Mast’s ground ball chopper staked the Hawks to a 1-0 lead.
Brecksville-Broadview Heights continued to struggle mightily in the field in the third, when they booted two more infield balls and allowed Hiland to score a second run when Cordell Miller was hit by a pitch, forcing in a run. However, with the bases loaded and Hiland threatening to blow it open, Cameron Miller laced a line drive to right that the right-fielder made a sensational diving catch on, saving the day for the time being.
While Hiland’s bats struggled, Massaro was cruising until the fourth inning, when he got in a jam after a hit, a sacrifice bunt and a ground ball advanced the runner to third with two outs. Following a walk, the Bee’s tried to run on catcher Bryan Yoder, who showed off the cannon arm by gunning the runner at second to end the threat.
He Hawks put two on in the bottom of the inning, the first on a bunt single by Chris Kline that could have been an out, the second on a walk, but again Hiland couldn’t get the big hit.
However, Massaro simply continued to get stronger as he went along. The Hawks put a runner on third with two outs in the fifth, when Hershberger hit one of the few balls Hiland hit hard all night into the left-field corner for a double, but as had been the case all night Hiland failed to bring in a runner in scoring position.
Brecksville-Broadview Heights finally got to Massaro in the sixth, when with one out, an error by Kline at short opened the door, and the Bees lashed two straight singles to trim Hiland’s lead to 2-1. After getting a huge strikeout for the second out, a single to left looked like it would knot things up, but Hershberger fielded the ball and fired a perfect strike to Yoder at the plate, the Hiland catcher slamming down the tag and flipping the ball skyward toward the mound after the exciting finish to the inning.
“That was such a huge play,” Massaro said of the out at home. “That ties the game and changes everything if we don’t make that play. It’s awesome having that kind of support behind you as a pitcher, knowing your defense is going to step up and make plays when it has to.”
Hiland needed a little insurance heading into the bottom of the sixth, and it got it courtesy of the bench. Junior Michael Miller stepped in and led off the inning by lashing a single down the line at third. Derek Miller then laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt, and this time Hiland got the big hit it needed when Kline got on top of a high heater and roped it into right for a single, scoring Miller.
“Michael has hit everything on the screws when he has been given a chance,” Gibson said of Miller. “That was a big insurance run.”
But Massaro wouldn’t need it. He worked around a single and a walk in the seventh inning by inducing two harmless pop outs to end the game, giving the Hawks’ their 19th win in as many games.
“Our best style of ball is keeping pressure on teams by doing little things and getting guys on base and moving them, and we didn’t do a good job of that tonight,” Gibson said.
While the two teams both ended the game with seven hits, Brecksville-Broadview Heights seemed to be taking better swings all night. Massaro did a good job of keeping the big-hitting Bees offense in check.
“We’ve seen that team and they can absolutely hit the ball a ton,” Gibson said of Brecksville-Broadview Heights.
“I tried to spot my pitches and keep the ball down,” Massaro said. “The first inning they hit some balls really hard and we made some plays. But I could tell they were a good hitting team. Even though I knew this team could hit, I tried to be the same guy I always am and make the same types of pitches I normally make.”
Massaro even had to battle through a steady rain in the final inning of play, which caused him to walk a hitter and uncork a wild pitch.
“That one wild pitch, I thought the ball was dry but it slipped out of my hand and wasn’t anywhere close to the plate,” Massaro said with a laugh.
Hershberger and Kline both collected a pair of hits for the Hawks, while Massaro struck out seven and walked three while scattering seven hits to earn the win.