Hilhi topples St. Helens in NWOC dual on the diamond
There's often a fine line between winning and losing.
Despite a final score that suggested a lopsided affair, it was really a couple plays, a couple more missed opportunities, and one really big inning that lifted the Hillsboro Spartans over the St. Helens Lions Wednesday, May 2, at Ad Rutschman Field.
The Spartans used six hits, three walks and three more Lion errors, to score eight runs and erase a two-run fourth inning deficit to defeat visiting St. Helens 14-3 and stay within a game of first place Sandy with just four games remaining.
"It all just kind of unraveled for us in the fourth," said St. Helens head coach Jeff Timmons. "One error turned into to two, two turned into three, and we didn't find a way to right the ship. We tip our caps to Hillsboro and we look forward to our next game."
After scoring just once over the game's first three innings, Hillsboro simply found a groove in the first half of the fourth, seemingly solving the puzzle that was Lion starter Drew Sullivan.
"I liked where we were pregame, but their pitcher stifled us," said Hillsboro head coach Bob Berent. "He did a nice job of locating and getting our guys in strike situations. We had to find some energy and some things started to go our way, then the second time through the lineup we started to figure some things out."
In all, Hillsboro tallied 12 hits and were led by a trio of Spartans, Curran Mitzel, Josh O'Neal, and Kane Kiaunis who combined for six hits. Kiaunis, a sophomore infielder, finished 2-for-5 with two singles and three RBIs.
Following two scoreless innings, St. Helens got things going in the third when Justin Olson led-off with a walk and moved to second on a Chris Beatty sacrifice bunt. Jacob Klein followed with a single to center to put runners on the corners, then a Joe Rea triple coupled with a David Parks single to center plated the game's first run, and the Lions led 3-0.
Hilhi responded in their half of the third, getting a run on a Collin Turnbaugh double to left centerfield that scored Clayton Danielowicz. But a bigger Spartan inning was thwarted by Sullivan, who pitched out of a bases loaded jam by getting Kiaunis to hit into an inning ending double play that limited the damage and left the Lions leading 3-1.
Then came the fourth.
Sullivan was forced from the game by a blister on his throwing hand, and Hillsboro wasted little time jumping on reliever Joey Binam. O'Neal singled to start the inning, Myles Littlejohn walked, then after a Tommy Wolfe bunt single loaded the bases, another walk, a single by Danielowicz and a Turnbaugh sacrifice fly made it 6-3 Sparts, and the rout was on. Mitzel singled, and after consecutive Lion errors allowed two more runs to score, O'Neal doubled for his second hit of the inning and Hilhi found themselves up 9-3 before the side was finally retired with a Danielowicz fly ball to right.
Timmons credited Hillsboro for rallying in the fourth, but at the same time lamented having to take Sullivan from the game so early in a contest in which he was dealing.
"It was rough for us to have to go to the bullpen that early," said Timmons. "Then we just couldn't find the zone, we fell behind batters and they did a good job of putting the bat on the ball."
The Spartans tacked-on three more in the fifth and two in the sixth before Hillsboro reliever Daniel Kitchens put St. Helens down in order in the seventh. But despite the score, Berent was quick to credit the Lions after the game.
"They were good and they're young, so they've got a nice future," said the Hilhi skipper. "Obviously we had an inning where things became contagious, but that happens sometimes."
Timmons pointed to their youth and a lack of true leadership as a key component to many of the mistakes that ultimately led to their demise, but at the same time understands it's those mistakes that aid the growing process and will help them going forward.
"We've got 39 kids out for baseball this year and 29 of them are freshmen and sophomores, so we're looking at it big picture," Timmons said. "We'll just keep working hard and hope we do our thing against our remaining schedule and hopefully get a chance to go to the eastside of the state and play a play-in game."
Meanwhile, Hillsboro finishes the year with two-game sets versus second place Wilsonville and league-leading Sandy, culminating with what could be a very big home game against the Pioneers. Yet, despite the season-ending gauntlet, Berent is excited for the games and is confident in his team going forward.
"You couldn't ask for a better position to be in, if we win some ball games we're going to put ourselves in a really good spot," Berent said. "But this team knows their roles and they believe in one another, and I know we're going to compete."