Knights make statement in taking pair from Hiland

Knights make statement  in taking pair from Hiland

Image Credit: Dave Mast

The Hiland Hawks came out from their first at-bat in game one of a doubleheader with cross-county rival West Holmes on Saturday, April 2 and punched the Knights right in the mouth. Then the Knights punched back and kept punching until they had punched the ticket to a 9-3, 3-1 double-header sweep.

“We just didn’t play well,” Hiland head coach Chris Dages said.

First-year head coach and longtime Knights assistant Wyatt Mellor talked about how much his players wanted to make a statement in this contest.

“This game is a big deal,” Mellor said. “When the guys came in after we made two errors in the first inning, I got them together and said, ‘You guys aren’t ready to play, and this is no ordinary team. You give them opportunities, they are going to score.’ I think that woke them up. Right off the rip, to go right after them was big for us, and when you do that to any team, it’s going to set them back in their seat a little bit, even a program as good as Hiland.”

Things looked fine early for the Hawks, who parlayed a walk and a Nolan Yoder single into a threat in the first, and with two outs Jeff Todaro stroked a single to plate the day’s first run. A walk and a Knights error gave the Hawks a 3-0 lead before West Holmes had even touched a bat.

When they finally did, they went to work immediately off Hiland starter Yoder. A pair of walks and a Hunter Aurand single loaded the bases with nobody out, and Micah Martin quickly unloaded them with one swing of the bats, tying the score at three with a three-run double. Rudy Hershberger singled Martin to third, and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Carson Tanner gave the Knights the lead at 4-3. After a passed ball, Brody Allen singled home Tanner to spot the Knights to a 5-3 lead through one inning.

“We answered and put the pressure back on them,” Mellor said. “After that first inning in the field, we did the things we needed to do to win. We didn’t make many mistakes.”

Hiland put two runners on in the third inning but failed to close the gap, and West Holmes extended its lead to 6-3 when Hershberger and Tanner singled and Allen knocked in another run with a base hit.

The Hawks threatened in the fourth, getting singles from Grant Miller and Yoder and a walk to Will Schlabach to load the bases with nobody out. However, West Holmes starter Noah Clark dug deep and got out of trouble unscathed, striking out the next three Hawks to preserve the three-run lead.

Blake McCombs relieved Clark in the fifth with the score still at 6-3. After her cruised through the inning, the Knights got some insurance in the bottom of the fifth. Dylan Robinson and Hershberger singled, and both came racing home when Allen ripped a single to center for an 8-3 Knights lead. He would later come around to score on a Gino Dinardi single.

McCombs and Hunter Ryan stayed locked in on the mound for West Holmes, and the Knights took the opener with ease.

Clark picked up the win, allowing seven hits and striking out seven in four innings of work. Allen had a big game at the plate, ripping three hits while driving home four, while Hershberger was a perfect 3-of-3 at the dish. Aurand added two hits, and Martin drove home three.

Nolan Yoder was the lone Hawks batter to collect more than one hit.

In the nightcap the two teams traded in their bats for gloves, and it turned into a pitcher’s duel between Hiland’s Cody Yoder and West Holmes’ Matthew Weaver. Both teams managed just six hits apiece, but the Knights would do more with theirs in posting a 3-1 victory.

The Hawks would jump on top in the first inning, scoring their lone run of the game when Todaro doubled to plate Matthew Weaver, who had walked.

Yoder would make that lead stand until the third, when West Holmes tied things up. Yoder had retired seven of the first eight batters he faced until Brady Smith reached on an infield single. A walk to Hershberger moved Smith to second, and he roared home on Dinardi’s single to knot things at 1-1.

Hiland would threaten in the fifth on two hit batters and a Cody Yoder single, but a key double play would keep the Hawks off the board. West Holmes didn’t miss its chance. With one out Smith reached on an infield chopper, and singles from Hershberger and Dinardi loaded the bases. An Aurand single to left gave the Knights a 2-1 lead, and a sacrifice fly off the bat of Martin added a second run. The Knights owned a 3-1 lead heading into the sixth.

On came McCombs in relief for the second time on the day, and he did his job, working around a harmless walk.

Hiland reliever Dakota Miller twirled a perfect half inning, and on came Ryan to try to close things out for the Knights. The Hawks would put the tying runs on board with singles from Brady Yoder and Grant Miller, but Ryan would go to a full count on Nolan Yoder before getting Yoder looking to end the game.

“I can’t speak enough about the job McCombs and Ryan have done in relief early in the season,” Mellor said. “Every time I’ve brought them into a game, they’ve thrown strikes and done the job.”

Smith would play a huge role from the nine-hole for the Knights, singling and scoring twice, while Dinardi would add two hits and an RBI. Weaver threw five innings of one-run, four-hit ball to pick up the win while Yoder was the hard-luck loser for the Hawks, pitching well in giving up six hits and three runs while striking out five over five innings.

Mellor said getting off to a big start, where the Knights took this twin-bill and made another double-header statement earlier by taking two from a strong Madison team in Ohio Cardinal Conference play, should go a long way in instilling confidence in his team.