When Hiland defeated Coshocton 1-0 in the donnybrook Div. III district final at West Holmes Wednesday, May 18, the game was marked by one meaningful play after another. Great defense, superb pitching and some key mistakes all factored into the final score.
Here are the five biggest reasons the game came to such an exciting conclusion.
Chris Kline stood on second base in the third inning of Hiland’s 2-1 win, his hip sore and bleeding, scraped raw from a head-first slide into second base. Kline had just crushed a ball into right-center, and never hesitated as he flew around first base, even amidst cries of “Oh no, Chris” from the Hiland dugout.
Because he was thinking two from the get-go, Kline’s mad rush to gain an extra base paid off.
“I was thinking two the whole way, because I wanted to be aggressive and make something happen,” said Kline.
He was and he did. The two-out hit and taking the extra base paid off when Tyson Gingerich dumped a single into shallow left field, allowing Kline to sprint home with the game’s lone run.
“I told Chris after that half inning that it was his run because of his hustle,” said Hiland first base coach Clippy Yoder.
In a game of huge plays, it may have been the one that flew under the radar the most, but none was bigger.
Below the Bill
OK, maybe there was a play that was bigger, or at least it could be argued that Hiland right-fielder Mitch Massaro’s diving catch of Alex McPeak’s shot to the gap was the single biggest play a Hiland defender made all season.
Here’s the scenario: It was the top of the sixth, with the Hawks clinging to a 1-0 lead. Two consecutive errors by the normally trusty defense put starter Eric Mullet in a huge pickle.
With nobody out, McPeak lashed a Mullet offering to the gap. The ball appeared to be headed for the fence, but Massaro went racing over, dove and made a sensational grab, forcing the Redskins runner to scamper back to first and second base respectively.
“It was amazing,” said Massaro of the game-saver. “I saw the ball under my bill, so I knew I had to lay out for it. It was crushed. But as I went after it, I usually go over the bill I step back, under the bill I dive for it. I don’t think I realized how big it was the moment I caught it, but when I threw it into Tyson (Gingerich) I got a jolt in me. I don’t think I have ever made a bigger play than that one in my career.”
The play saved the season for Hiland, and stunned Coshocton.
“When I hit it I really thought it was in the gap and I was thinking three,” said McPeak, who can flat-out fly. “He made a great play.”
The High Cheese
Hiland was not out of trouble yet. Andrew Mason hit a shot back at Eric Mullet on the mound, who knocked it down, retrieved it, fired a strike to second, where Kline’s relay throw was not in time to get the hustling Mason. Now with runners on the corner and two outs, Mason took a huge lead to try to induce the Hawks into a run-down between first and second, a play designed to let the runner score from third. Instead, Mullet stepped off, threw to Kline and Hiland calmly kept the runner at third, even though Mason reached second base.
That set up a showdown between Mullet and Coshocton’s fiercest hitter, Talon Babcock.
With first base open, the Hawks chose to throw to Babcock, and after getting ahead in the count 1-2, Mullet went upstairs, delivering a nasty neck-high fastball that Babcock couldn’t lay off. A mighty swing and a miss later, and Mullet had escaped what had been the Redskins’ most dangerous threat in the game.
“I was thinking strikeout,” said Mullet. “I knew my defense could make plays behind me, but the strikeout was in my mind, and I knew I could do it as well. I just wanted to get us out of the inning.”
Mullet struck out 11 on the night, and in a game of this magnitude, with that much excitement, many people may not have realized that after Mullet allowed a lead-off single to Connor Roahrig to start the game, he didn’t give up another hit.
“That is what Eric has done all year for us,” said Hiland coach Tom Gibson.
The seven shutout innings runs Mullet’s OHSAA record string of not allowing an earned run to 102 over his three-year career.
The Year of the Gun
Photo: Hiland’s Bryan Yoder has had a successful year of mowing down runners at second base attempting to steal.
What to do. In the top of the seventh with Hiland up 1-0, Hunter Haas led off by reaching on an error. Coshocton head coach Scott Loomis called for a bunt, which Devin Ryan fouled off. Hiland, expecting another attempt, had the corners in. Instead, Loomis called an audible, and sent Haas on a steal attempt. Hiland catcher Bryan Yoder popped up and threw a perfect strike to second base, nailing Haas. Mullet then struck out the next two hitters to end the game.
“I was hoping he’d run,” said Yoder, who is always hoping runners test his cannon behind the plate. “I knew when I let it go it was on the money.”
The steal call was a bold move by Loomis, who eschewed the sacrifice bunt for the steal opportunity.
With the bottom of the order up and having struggled mightily against Mullet all night, having very few decent swings against the mighty righty, he opted to turn to the running game instead. It didn’t work, but it was something he felt was worth risking with where the Redskins were in the batting order.
If successful, he could have then bunted Haas to third, and with one out, it would have brought a multitude of options to the table.
“We’ve played aggressive baseball all season, and we’ve been successful,” said Loomis. “I felt it was the best way for us to produce a run where we were in the order.”
Instead, Yoder did what he does best, and ended any hope for Coshocton.
Hunter Haas did not get a hit for Coshocton, but that didn’t stop him from playing a huge role in keeping his team close. In the fifth inning, Haas got a huge jump on Derek Miller’s laser into center. Haas came roaring in, dove headlong and made a sensational catch to rob Miller of a sure base hit.
Zach Coblentz then laid down a perfect bunt single, and advanced to third on Kline’s base hit. With Babcock taking over pitching duties, Hiland proceeded to botch a suicide squeeze attempt. As Coblentz came speeding toward the plate, Gingerich failed to attempt to bunt a pitch that was a couple inches off the plate, and on a bang-bang play, Coblentz was tagged out. Still, Hiland had hope with the dangerous Gingerich at the plate. He lined a shot to center, where Haas again got a huge jump on the play. The center fielder made a running shoestring catch to end the threat. In what could have been a huge inning for the Hawks, Haas’ defense proved to be huge, not once but twice.
“We talked about that squeeze bunt during that long time-out, and I don’t know why our runner left early and I don’t know why our bunter didn’t bunt it,” said Gibson of the inning’s fiasco. “We had the right guy bunting and a great base runner at third. We just froze. But that catch on Derek’s ball to start the inning was pretty big. That kid made a great play.”