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Hawks' reign, perfect run finishes in title game

By KEVIN LYNCH Staff Writer Published: June 10, 2017 5:00 AM
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COLUMBUS -- Get 'em on, get 'em over and get 'em in.

That formula has worked for Hiland many times during its 31-game winning streak this season.

Unfortunately for the Hawks, they got 'em on and got 'em over -- but they didn't get 'em in. Not only was their formula stopped, so was their 45-game winning streak as Warren Champion dethroned the reigning champs of Div. III 1-0 Saturday morning at Huntington Park in Columbus to capture the state title 1-0.

"I thought we outplayed those guys, we just didn't get the hit when we needed it," Hiland coach Tom Gibson said. "That's the way baseball goes, though. Not a whole lot you can do about it.

"Three untimely called third strikes with guys in scoring position, you can't do that," the coach continued. "That's tough. We played well all year. This was the first stinker we had. What hurts the most is, these kids deserve better. I felt we outplayed them. We just didn't get that one hit at the right time."

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Hiland left 10 runners on base, letting Champion sophomore Andrew Russell off the hook time and again. The crafty right-hander limited Hiland to seven hits, striking out seven, while walking a pair and hitting one batter.

"My curveball was working and kept them off balance," Russell said. "The inside fastball helped me out a few times, too. I got some pop ups. I just had to keep telling myself to stay calm and let my defense work behind me."

Gibson said Russell pitched a good game.

"We hit the ball hard on him," the coach said. "He's a sophomore. He's a nice little player. I thought he did a nice job, but again, we got seven hits, we got six guys in scoring position, without getting a run. We shot ourselves in the foot."

Champion struck first in the bottom of the first, as Kent State signee Michael Turner singled home Lucas Nasonti, who was hit by a pitch and sacrificed to second.

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No one expected that to be the deciding run.

"It's too bad that run in the first inning held up," Gibson said. "I really never thought it would hold up, but it did. A hit batter, and they got that one timely hit."

"Don't leave a hanging curveball over the plate," Hiland starting pitcher Mitch Masssaro said. "That was the difference in the game. We hit the ball hard. They weren't falling."

Massaro was tagged with the loss, despite pitching six innings of one run, four-hit baseball. He struck out three, walked a pair and hit the one batter.

Hiland threatened in the top of the third, getting a leadoff single by Michael Miller and a walk to No. 9 man Derek Miller. Chris Kline sacrificed the runners to second and third, but Russell wriggled off the hook, getting a groundout to second by Tyson Gingerich against a drawn-in infield and a check swing popout to first by Ryan Yoder.

A leadoff double to open the fourth turned into another wasted opportunity for Hiland. Ryan Hershberger doubled down the left field line and was sacrificed to third by Andy Miller, but strikeouts of Massaro and Michael Miller enabled Russell to get out of the jam again.

For the third inning in a row, the Hawks had the Champion sophomore on the ropes, but couldn't deliver the knockout punch.

With two outs in the fifth, Gingerich singled. Bryan Yoder singled to left and Hershberger walked to load the bases for hot-hitting Andy Miller, who fouled the first pitch back to the screen, where Turner snagged it for the third out.

Hiland had another slim chance in the sixth inning, but Russell punched out a pair of Hawks looking to avoid any damage.

The Hawks got a two-out gift hit in the seventh inning by Yoder, but a fly out to center ended both the game and Hiland's reign.

"We're not going to dwell on what we didn't do," Gibson said. "I'm just going to tell them how proud I am of them and the great run we had. Not just this year, but last year and the year before. A lot of these guys were contributors three years ago when they went 28-4. Last year we were 30-2 and this year 31-1 (89-7). That's a pretty damn good run for three years.

"I thought our young guys played well today," he added. "Hersh (Herhberger) did a great job. Mike Miller; Andy; they did a good job. We just needed one of our older guys to step up and get the big hit.

There's a lot of young talent coming up in our little leagues," Gibson added. "I watch practices and go to games in the summer. The future is very, very bright for this program going forward."

Senior shortstop Chris Kline said it was tough walking off the field without the championship trophy, but was proud to end his Hiland career at Huntington Park with his teammates.

"This pitcher wasn't anything we hadn't seen throughout the year," Kline said. "We just couldn't hit him today, couldn't hit in the clutch."

The Golden Flashes finished 27-3 in notching their first state championship.

"We may have played as close to perfect baseball in all three phases as we could today," said Champion coach Rick Yauger. "We got great pitching, defense and the clutch hit when we needed it."

Yeager said the championship means a lot to their community. "We're heading from here to Firestone to watch our girls team play for the state championship. We're going to carry the trophy into the stadium and be there in support."


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