There is an old adage that states, “Nothing feels as good as when you give something away.”
Garaway head baseball coach Justin Elmore would beg to differ.
Elmore knew one thing coming into the Pirates’ key Inter-Valley Conference game with defending state champion Hiland Monday, April 17 in Sugarcreek: that in the battle of Inter-Valley Conference undefeateds, his team could not afford to make errors and give the Hawks extra outs.
However, the Pirates put themselves in a hole early, committing four errors that keyed a 10-3 Hiland win that put the Hawks in the driver’s seat in league play.
“We talked earlier in the day and felt that we needed to commit two errors or less, and when our middle infield commits four errors, we are not giving ourselves a shot,” Elmore said. “That, along with the fact that we left a lot of guys on base and didn’t come through when we had opportunities just killed us.”
The game that would determine the leader in the IVC was circled by many, and there was a nice crowd on hand, but what they saw was far from a masterpiece.
“We did some things well, and I thought we ran the bases really well, but we made some mistakes, and what really frustrates me is that the runs they got are runs that we gave them,” said Hiland coach Tom Gibson. “They probably are saying the same thing, because they gave up some runs too. But I don’t like giving up any runs, regardless of the score.”
Hiland’s Chris Kline opened the game by drawing a walk off of Garaway starter BJ Schwartz. He moved to second on Tyson Gingerich’s ground-out and scored when Bryan Yoder’s long drive eluded the outstretched glove of center-fielder Micah VanFossen. With two outs, shortstop Peyton Miller couldn’t handle Braden Mast’s ground ball and Hiland led 2-0.
Mast toed the rubber for the Hawks and cruised through the first inning with ease, and Schwartz did the same in the top of the second. In the bottom of the inning Garaway took advantage of Mast’s unusual wildness to creep to within 2-1. A walk, two hit batters and Ben Koshmider’s RBI single plated Ian Hershberger, but Mast was able to wiggle out of trouble, leaving the bases loaded by getting a pair of ground ball outs.
Hiland got that run right back in the third inning, again courtesy of a Garaway error. With one out Andy Miller singled and stole second, and another error off the bat of Mast moved him to third, allowing him to jog home on Derek Miller’s sacrifice fly.
Mast got an out in the bottom of the third inning, but couldn’t find the plate, walking a pair that spelled the end of his night. On came Derek Miller, who threw brilliantly in relief, quickly getting out of the jam to keep the score at 3-1.
Hiland advanced the lead to 4-1 in the fourth, thanks to their speed. Chris Kline singled and stole second, and Tyson Gingerich rifled a line shot off the foot of Schwartz and into center field to plate Kline. Gingerich then stole second but was stranded.
Derek Miller simply dominated the fourth and fifth innings, retiring all six hitters he faced, and the Hawks went back to work. Andy Miller was hit by Schwartz, and after stealing second he scored when Mast scorched a shot down the left-field line for a double. Derek Miller then laced a single to right to plate Mast and Schwartz’ night was over. With one out off of reliever Josh Yoder, Ryan Hershberger singled, and one out later Kline mashed a double to right-center to make it 8-1.
“We put the ball in play all night, and they failed to make some plays that opened the door for us,” said Hiland coach Tom Gibson. “There were a couple of innings where they could have gotten out of trouble if they make plays, but we were able to put it in play and take advantage. We actually didn’t play very sharp in the field either, and we do have some things to fix.”
Hiland’s Ryan Hershberger relieved Derek Miller on the mound for Hiland to start the bottom of the sixth inning, and the Pirates touched him for a run when Ian Hershberger singled and came around on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Derek Briggs.
Hiland would score its ninth run of the contest in the top of the seventh, when Kline walked and took second on a Gingerich single. Kline then parlayed a heady move into a run when he tagged up and advanced to third base on a pop-up behind the mound that was snagged by third baseman Quinn Miller. With nobody covering third, Kline raced to the bag ahead of several Pirates, and then scored on Andy Miller’s sacrifice fly.
Garaway mounted a small seventh inning rally, getting doubles from Quinn Miller and Ian Hershberger, but it was too little too late.
Both teams squandered some good scoring opportunities, with the Hawks leaving 10 runners stranded and the Pirates leaving nine on base.
“We couldn’t get the big hit when we needed it,” Elmore said. “You’ve got to take advantage when those kinds of opportunities arise, and we didn’t do a very good job of that tonight. I thought BJ did a great job of keeping us in the game and giving us a chance. You can’t ask him to get any more ground balls. He did his job, but we didn’t do the job in the field.”
Schwartz went four innings, allowing six runs, four of them earned, while allowing six hits, walking one and striking out a pair. Yoder was nicked for four runs in two innings, with two of those being earned, while Briggs threw a solid frame in relief.
Derek Miller picked up the win for the Hawks, twirling a sparkling 2-1/3 innings of shut-out ball. He did not allow a hit, walked one batter and struck out three. Mast, who has been brilliant this year, couldn’t find a rhythm, walking three and hitting a pair of batters while giving up one hit that produced the one run scored against him.
“I didn’t think Braden was prepared, and we talked after the game to all of our pitchers about throwing between starts, and the importance of staying sharp,” Gibson said. “Braden didn’t throw any since his last start and it showed, and he understood the lesson. I at least like learning lessons in a win.”
Hershberger struck out five in his 2-1/3 innings of relief, allowing four hits and two earned runs. At the plate the Hawks were paced by Kline, Gingerich, Bryan Yoder and Derek Miller, all of whom banged out two hits. Kline proved to be a real thorn in the side of the Pirates, scoring four runs, while Yoder and Derek Miller drove home a pair. Garaway was paced by Ian Hershberger’s two hits, but the Hawks out-hit the Pirates 12-5.
Hiland now holds a one-game lead on Garaway in league play. The Hawks moved to a perfect 12-0 on the year while the pirates fell to 10-4 overall.
“If you want to beat that team you have to take advantage of opportunities and not give runs away, and we did neither,” Elmore said. “But we have them again, so we’ll see, but we have to get better defensively, regardless of who we are facing.”