COLUMBUS – Berlin Hiland made the most of its limited opportunities and shut out Versailles to win 3-0 and end the Tigers’ season in the Division III state semifinals on Friday morning at Huntington Park in Columbus.
Versailles limited Hiland to just four hits in the Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament game at the home of the Columbus Clippers and committed no errors. However, the Hawks had timely hitting as their four hits resulted in three runs.
“Making it to the state final four, playing the No. 1 team in the state, it’s going to be a tough challenge for us,” Versailles baseball coach Ryan Schlater said. “But I’m proud of the guys. The teams that we beat to get here, the resiliency we showed, I’m proud of them no matter how the result was today. They battled. They got guys on base. We just didn’t come up with that big hit like they did today.”
Hiland got its offense going in the third inning with a two-out rally. After Chris Kline was walked, Tyson Gingerich hit a RBI double and Bryan Yoder hit a RBI single to give the Hawks a 2-0 lead.
“Brett (McEldowney) pitched a heck of a game,” Schlater said of his starting pitcher, who went the complete game and allowed three runs on four hits, two walks and four strikeouts. “He made the pitches when he needed to and just gave up those four hits.”
While Hiland’s first two hits both drove in runs, Versailles wasn’t as fortunate as the Tigers stranded six runners in the first three innings.
In the first inning Keaton McEldowney and Brett McEldowney notched back-to-back singles with one out but were left stranded. In the second inning Collin Peters drew a one-out walk but he too was stranded.
Perhaps Versailles’ best opportunity to score came in the third inning. Brett McEldowney recorded his second hit of the day with a two-out single, and then Kurtis Rutschilling and Austin Knapke reached on back-to-back Hiland errors to load the bases. However, Versailles again couldn’t capitalize and remained scoreless.
“We’d been pretty fortunate before that to come up with a big hit or have a good at-bat and get a walk and get the run in,” Schlater said. “Today we just couldn’t get that run in. We had the chances.”
The final run of the game came in the fifth inning. Kline reached base for the third time in the game with a one-out single. He then advanced to third on a double by Gingerich and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yoder.
Versailles couldn’t manage a base runner in the final four innings as Hiland’s Eric Mullet, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in more than 100 innings dating back to last season, limited Versailles to three hits and one walk while striking out eight in Friday’s game.
“Hit him hard just couldn’t get that big hit,” Schlater said.
Mullet wasn’t overpowering, but he mixes up his pitches and hid the ball well from Versailles’ batters.
“He just keeps us off balance,” Schlater said. “When you’re throwing good like that, it’s hard to hit.”
With Friday’s loss Versailles finished the season with a 23-5 record. The Tigers won a share of the Midwest Athletic Conference championship and also made the state final four for the first time in 16 years.
A lot of Versailles’ success can be attributed to the Tigers’ five seniors – Adam Lyons, Brett McEldowney, Jared Niekamp, Collin Peters and Jacob Watren.
“I can’t say enough about these seniors,” Schlater said. “This is my third year with them, and I got to know them really well. It’s going to be tough to lose them. They’re great kids. I’d do anything for them. They battled every single game for me.”
Versailles will return five players who started in Friday’s state semifinal to its 2017 team. With some strong players returning, Schlater expects another big season from the Tigers next year.
“We’ve got a target on our back right now, but it’s always nice to have a little target on your back,” he said. “We’ll get back here next year, hopefully. We have good underclassmen They’ve been here. Now they’ve got to get back.”
Kyle Shaner may be reached at 937-569-4316. Follow me on Twitter @KShanerAdvocate or get updates on Facebook by searching Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.