To be a successful high school softball team, the first requirement is to have a dominating pitcher. Teams have been known to ride an overpowering arm to state titles, because the farther you get down the tournament trail, the more runs come at a premium.
It’s similar in baseball, but it’s considerably more difficult.
At Wednesday night’s Division III district final at West Holmes High School, Hiland’s Eric Mullet carried his team on his back once again, tossing a one-hitter to lead the Hawks past a scrappy Coshocton bunch for a slim 1-0 victory.
“He’s amazing, simply amazing,” said coach Tom Gibson of his ace’s effort on the mound. “They only squared one ball up on him and that was the one where Mitch made that great catch in right field.”
That great catch was by Mitch Massaro, and it came at a critical juncture of the game. Hiland’s usually-sound defense looked like it was going to be their downfall, when back-to-back infield errors led to the Redskins having runners on first and second with nobody out and the Hawks nursing a 1-0 lead. Alex McPeak blistered a shot to the gap in right-center and Massaro laid out, catching it at full extension to preserve the lead on a shot that possibly could’ve plated two for Coshocton had it gone by. A fielder’s choice on a ground ball and another Mullet strikeout would end the inning.
But Massaro wasn’t the only one who was making fantastic plays this night. There were plenty of defining moments to the game.
Coshocton’s Hunter Haas came barreling in from center field to make two outstanding diving catches on line drives to rob Derek Miller and Tyson Gingerich of hits, and another huge moment came in the game’s final moments.
After Braden Mast couldn’t come up with the ball with a sliding attempt on Haas’ grounder to the hole at third leading off the inning, Coshocton head coach Scott Loomis took a gamble…and lost. He had Haas rolling on the pitch and Hiland’s Bryan Yoder cut him down at the bag at second. Mullet took over from there and ended the game with a pair of strikeouts, and the Hawks were on their way to the Chillicothe regional.
“We had to make something happen,” said Loomis. “That’s been our style all year, to be aggressive. We tried to make something happen and their catcher made a great play.”
The aggressive attitude mirrored with the Redskins’ approach to this game.
“We came in here confident that we had a chance to win the ballgame, and unfortunately, we couldn’t get that hit with runners in scoring position,” Loomis said. “We didn’t get a lot against Mullet, but we had several opportunities to get runs in. It just didn’t work out.”
Coshocton wasn’t the only team that missed opportunities. Hiland sabotaged its own scoring chances with base running blunders.
With two on and two out in the second, Kobe Miller was picked off first by Coshocton catcher Andrew Mason to end the inning. But a more critical mistake came when Hiland was threatening in the fifth.
With Hiland up 1-0, Zach Coblentz got on with a one-out bunt and moved to third on Chris Kline’s single up the middle. It prompted a pitching change for Loomis, who brought in ace Talon Babcock. On Babcock’s first pitch, chaos ensued, as Coblentz broke home early on a suicide squeeze and Tyson Gingerich made no attempt on the ball at the plate. Coblentz made it close at home, but was tagged out, clearly on some kind of miscommunication, but it kept the Hawks from extending their lead at a critical time late in the game. Haas then made a fantastic play when Gingerich smashed a liner to center on which Haas made an acrobatic diving grab.
“We talked about it during the pitching change,” said Gibson of the failed suicide squeeze play. “I don’t know why our runner broke early, and I don’t know why our batter didn’t bunt it. We had our best bunter at the plate and a good base runner on third, I couldn’t believe it. We’ll address it tomorrow.”
Hiland scored the lone run of the game in an inning when it looked like they had nothing going in the third. For the second game in a row, Kline and Gingerich teamed up with huge back-to-back, two-out hits. Kline drilled a line shot just to the right-field side of Haas in center and turned it into a hustle double with a head-first slide into second. And as baseball would have it, Gingerich, who had been retired on line-outs to second and center in his other two at-bats, dumped a floater into left field to plate Kline with what turned out to be the game-winner.
As district runner-up, Coshocton wrapped up its season with a 20-8 record. Connor Roahrig led off the game with a bouncer up the middle for the lone Redskins hit. They suffered 11 strikeouts at the hand of Mullet, who walked just one. Logan Hough took the loss for Coshocton, tossing a fine 4 1/3 innings, surrendering one run on four hits, striking out two and walking one. Babcock finished the final 1 2/3 hitless innings.
Hiland (25-2) moves on to the regional next Thursday, May 26 at 11 a.m. in Chillicothe Paint Stadium. The Hawks were led by Kline’s two hits, with Gingerich and Coblentz accounting for one single apiece.