On a night when hits were at a premium and runs were even more precious, the visiting Hiland Hawks took advantage of Canton Central Catholic miscues and some timely hits of their own to down the Crusaders 2-1 in a clash between two vaunted Division III programs.
Canton Central Catholic, the reigning Division III state champions, and Hiland, new to Division III this year, are both ranked in the top ten in the state. The powers collided on Friday night in Canton as the game took on a tone worthy of such a matchup.
Both teams had quality arms on the hill, with Hiland’s Mitch Massaro facing off with the Crusaders’ hard-throwing right-hander Clay Davies.
The Hawks got things going by playing small ball in the third, when Zach Coblentz walked to lead off the inning and was sacrificed to second by Chris Kline’s bunt. Coblentz advanced to third on an infield single on a bouncer to short by Tyson Gingerich and scored on a Bryan Yoder ground ball single between third and short that had the feel of a hole on a mini golf course with a pendulum obstacle as the two fielders converged but neither glove could come up with the ball.
Meanwhile, Massaro was dealing on the mound, as he was mowing through the Crusader lineup after surviving a deep double to left center in the first. It didn’t go unnoticed by Hiland head coach Tom Gibson and his staff.
“We were going to go with Mitch through five, then bring in Eric (Mullet) to get him some work, but Mitch was dealing such a hot hand we decided we weren’t going to do that,” he said.
Hiland would help build its lead in the sixth, when CCC again presented an open door and the Hawks barreled right through. Eric Mullet was drilled in the back leading off the sixth and was moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Braden Mast. Up came Kobe Miller, who bounced one through the hole on the right side to score Mullet and give Hiland a 2-0 lead for Massaro.
Both teams went quietly in their next at bats, setting up a dramatic bottom of the seventh.
Davies aided his own cause by leading off the inning with a sharp single to center. Massaro induced a harmless fly ball to right and a fielder’s choice, before Ray Schembeckler hammered a two-strike double to deep left center just beyond the reach of Coblentz to make it a 2-1 ballgame. But Massaro got Cameron Ruffin to fly out to shallow center to end the threat, and the ballgame.
“I see what we’re capable of,” said Gibson. “As disgusted as I was the other night (versus TCC), I’m ecstatic today. We were focused, we came to play, we made great plays on defense and we put the ball in play against this kid, and he was a good pitcher.”
In a preview of a potential rematch down the road in tournament play, neither team threw their ace, but Massaro and Davies certainly did their jobs and more.
Massaro got the win, going seven innings, giving up the lone late run on only four hits, with no walks and two strikeouts. Davies took a tough loss, going seven innings and surrendering two runs on five hits, striking out three and walking one.
Kobe Miller had two hits for the Hawks, driving in what ultimately was the deciding run. Davies and Schembeckler each doubled for the Crusaders.
With the win, Hiland stands at 21-2 on the season, with their final IVC game, a makeup at Garaway, scheduled for Thursday. The Hawks host Monroe Central in tournament action Tuesday, May 10.