In high school sports, rarely does a season end the way a player envisions. There are only a fortunate few who get to experience a state title to end a season or career. The Hillsboro Hawks baseball team had those dreams entering yesterday’s sectional contest at Vianney. And when Michael Brewer hit a home run in the first inning, those hopes got a big lift. But the rest of the game didn’t develop the way the Hawks wanted, and their season came to a close on Tuesday with a 9-1 loss to the Golden Griffins.
It was clear Vianney was going to be a challenge. They’re a very strong and balanced team. They came into the game with a 26-9 record and a seven game winning streak. They also had won their previous two state sectional contests. Possibly another factor that weighed in their favor was the fact that the ballgame was moved to their all-turf field because of Monday night’s rains. The game was originally set to be hosted by the Hawks. Head coach Kevin Lucas didn’t think the change of venue affected the end result. “I don’t think it had much to do with it, but I know some of our guys weren’t prepared for it,” Lucas admitted. “Some of them didn’t bring molded cleats. We had told them the days leading up to it that we would try to play wherever, so be prepared. We seemed to play better on the road this year anyway. One thing it did cause was maybe some of our fans weren’t able to make it.”
Nevertheless, the Hawks came out with a lot of enthusiasm and belief that they could pull the upset. The Hawks entered the game 14-6, and had played 15 games less than Vianney (once again, the benefits of an all-turf field). But Lucas said that could have been an advantage. “I think a lot of people doubted what kind of talent we had, and I think that helped motivate these kids,” he said. “I feel like some of that has to do with the amount of games we played this year, or lack thereof. When we went into the district tournament, we had played about half the amount of games as some of the other teams, so some teams didn’t think we were really that good.”
And in the first inning yesterday, Brewer made everyone take notice of the Hawks as he hit the second pitch he saw over the right field fence. The Hawks’ fans went crazy, the dugout spilled onto the field, and players mauled Brewer after he stepped on home plate.
And then came the bottom of the first inning.
The first Vianney batter hit the first pitch from Brewer deep to left-center field that fell between Hayden Voyles and Mark Moore. Both, without a doubt, would admit the ball should have been caught. The second pitch to the second batter was laced to center field for a base hit. Two pitches…two hits…tie game. But the onslaught was not near finished. The third batter singled to right, and then a walk loaded the bases. The #5 hitter doubled to left which plated two runs to make it 3-1. There were still no outs. The #6 hitter in the lineup would single to right, scoring two more runs and giving the host team a 5-1 advantage before an out could be recorded. “That big first inning was a huge blow to the momentum we had from Michael’s home run,” Lucas confessed. “We knew we couldn’t give them any extra outs, and that inning, we did. If we are able to catch a few of those balls, then that changes the whole game. Once you get down against a team like that, it is tough to get back in it.”
And the way the Golden Griffins pitched and played defense, that became very evident. Vianney would add a run in the second, two in the third, and one in the fifth. Meanwhile, for the remainder of the game, Hillsboro’s offense would consist of a walk to Dayton Hoelter in the second who would be stranded, and a Grant Beck single to lead off the third, but he would get picked off. The Hawks would get back-to-back hits in the seventh when Brewer would double, and Christian Hancock would single, but the game would end on three consecutive strikeouts.
“Today’s game was a little rough to be honest,” said Riley Jennings, one of five seniors playing their final game for the Hawks. “It didn’t look like we were ready today, and not playing much for me was tough, but I knew we had a good team this year from the start.” Jennings went on to add, “Coach Lucas is an amazing coach, and he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to baseball. That’s what makes this program good. From the beginning of this season, Coach had got it in our heads that we are a good team, and we can do great things. Also, we had to practice inside a lot this year because of our field being wet, but that didn’t stop us. Everyday, Coach would try to do something different inside with us to make sure we didn’t start getting lazy just because we had to be inside. These are some things that helped us win Hillsboro’s first ever Class 5 district championship.”
Lucas said the love of the game is what separated this team from others. “This is a group that just truly enjoys the game of baseball and put in the work to get better every day,” he noted. “Every year you want your team to become a close knit group, and this group did that. We would always hear them talking about going to someone’s house to hang out, or after games going to a restaurant to eat. So it was good to see that they weren’t just all going their own separate ways after practice or a game, they wanted to be around each other. I think that is one of the things that helped us become the team we were this year.”
Despite the loss, another senior, Ethan Eckrich said it can’t diminish the team’s accomplishments. “This season was definitely one I’ll remember forever,” he commented. “The bond all of us have together is something that will never go away.” Senior Christian Hancock noted, “This season has been really fun with this group of guys, and it was an amazing experience making it this far. We had a fun time, and the coaches made the experience amazing.” Michael Brewer and Hayden Voyles were also senior members of the team.
“I feel all senior groups are special, but this one truly is a great group,” Coach Lucas said. “They were our leaders this year. They all brought something different to the table, but they all had one thing in common and that was to make this team be the best it could be. Michael, Ethan, Hayden, Christian, and Riley are some great kids that will be hard to replace, and I am going to miss them way more than they are going to miss me. Yeah, we may not have won a state title, but we accomplished so much this year by winning a conference title and also winning our first Class 5 district title in school history. If you look at all the teams in Class 5, there are some very big schools with rich baseball traditions, and that helps you realize that winning in this class is not easy to do. I feel like they were a huge part of getting this program going in the right direction. I hope this year showed the rest of our program what we can do, and hopefully we can continue to keep things going.”
Congratulations on a fine season, and good luck seniors as you continue to pursue your goals.