Let the fun continue for the Hiland Hawks summer baseball team. Hiland’s bunch of 15- and 16-year-olds gutted out an intense trek through the Senior Little League state tournament, got a hard week of practice in and ventured to Peru, Illinois, to represent Ohio in the central regional for a ninth straight time.
After utilizing some quality pitching and superb defense, the team representing Ohio fought its way into the regional title game versus Wisconsin on Wednesday, July 26.
In a fantastic finale the Hawks played their hearts out and earned a trip to the Senior Little League World Series in a scintillating 2-1 victory.
Hiland starter Kevin Borntrager danced in and out of trouble throughout his four innings of work. He allowed 10 base runners on seven hits and three walks during his stint, yet the 15-year-old somehow managed to come up with big outs at every turn when he absolutely had to have them.
“They put a lot of pressure on us in the first few innings, but I felt we did a pretty nice job in terms of maintaining our composure, and that is what they have done throughout this tournament. That is kind of exciting: to watch them continue to grow. That is what is really exciting.”
Borntrager put two runners on in the first inning to start the game and then worked out of the jam on a line-out and two harmless ground-outs. In the second Borntrager gave up a walk and three singles as Wisconsin scored its lone run of the game. But with one out he got what was the biggest out of his career when he induced a ground ball to second baseman Drew Yoder, who flipped to Andy Miller at short for the force-out, Miller’s throw to first ending the inning on a huge double play.
The Hawks got the run right back in the bottom of the inning when Ricky Miller walked and scored on Logan Miller’s crushing double to left.
Wisconsin came in and started attacking again in the third inning. Owen Christianson singled to start the inning, but when Jackson Wendler punched a single to left, Christianson took an ill-advised chance to get to third, and Logan Miller threw a strike to Casey Kalman at third to cut him down.
The next batter reached on an error, and Brandon Fox obliterated a ball to deep center, but Tyler Kline tracked it down, keeping the runners where they were at first and second. A single loaded the bases with two outs, but again Borntrager escaped when he got a routine fly-out down the left-field line as Logan Miller was in perfect position to make the play.
Meanwhile, Ryan Schmitt was looking good for Wisconsin on the mound, and Hiland could not generate any offense.
Borntrager allowed a lone walk in the fourth but never got in any real danger, and Ohio coach Mike Yoder turned to rangy right-hander Korrie Hostetler in the biggest pressure situation of the 15-year-old’s life.
“Kevin was never really comfortable, but he kept battling and battling,” coach Yoder said. “Korrie has grown up right in front of our eyes. He is turning into a pitcher. It’s fun to see his composure. His presence on the mound is so different than it was.”
Hostetler, who seemed to get better and better as the summer rolled on, took command and dominated Wisconsin over the final three frames.
Ohio would get the game-winning run in the fifth when Kline reached on an error and Andy Miller hit a ball high off the wall in center field, narrowly missing a two-run home run.
That moved Kline to third, and Ryan Hershberger’s sacrifice fly brought home Kline as the Hawks took a 2-1 lead.
Hostetler struck out a pair in the sixth, and the Hawks went down without a run in the bottom of the inning, setting up the final showdown for all the marbles.
With ace closer Andy Miller waiting in the wings, coach Yoder opted to stay with the white-hot Hostetler instead. The youngster did not disappoint his coach or his teammates.
He got Schmitt on an easy ground-out, and after Christianson slapped a single to center, Jackson Wendler flew out to left. The only thing standing between Ohio and a date at the World Series was Mitchell Wendler, and after a lengthy battle that saw him foul off three balls, Hostetler eventually got him to hit a routine ground ball to first base, where Ricky Miller gobbled it up, stepped on the bag and sent the Hawks to their third trip to the Senior League World Series in the past six years.
It’s an incredible run for a team that is made up from one small high school, compared to most of the other regional teams and World Series qualifiers that get to choose the best players from thousands of kids.
“It’s a group of kids who doesn’t quit believing in what they are doing,” coach Yoder said. “I like their tenacity. It’s not always pretty, but at least it is effective, and that’s the main thing. I think this group has proven that, and I’m excited for them.”
Hiland managed just four hits off of Schmitt, who was very good all day long in shutting down Ohio’s offensive attack. Andy Miller collected two of Hiland’s hits, but on this day it was the pitching and defense that would earn Hiland the right to advance on to play at the program’s third World Series in six years.
“This program has been about pitching and defense for as long as I can remember,” coach Yoder said. “This group is now realizing how important that is, and we have really grown a lot in understanding that it isn’t the flashy, spectacular plays that make the difference, but the ability to make sound, fundamental plays on a regular basis. That is what matters the most, and that is the reason we are where we are now. These kids have really done a tremendous job defensively.”
While this marks the third trip to the World Series in six years, the one main difference this time around is that it will take place in Easley, South Carolina, a change of venue from the previous two appearances that took place in Bangor, Maine.
“We don’t know what is down in South Carolina, but we are going to find out,” coach Yoder said. “We are going to keep running until we quit running, so we’ll have some fun.”
The Senior League World Series will take place in Easley, South Carolina, from July 29 through Aug. 5.