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Defense was key in regional wins

Hillsboro baseball moving on to 3A state tournament Friday and Saturday in Manhattan

Staff writer

What was previously a weakness for the Hillsboro High School baseball team — fielding — was a strength May 18 during regional play in Marion.

In wins over Marion and Southeast of Saline, the Trojans committed one error. Even with what coach Doug Dick called the worst offensive games of the season for Hillsboro, the Trojans defeated Marion, 2-1, and SES, 4-0. With the victories, Hillsboro moves onto the 3A state tournament Friday and Saturday in Manhattan.

“When you’re throwing strikes and playing good defense, you don’t have to score a lot of runs,” Dick said.

The defensive effort was led by senior third baseman Ben Gardner who made three “Wow”-award quality plays against Southeast of Saline in the second game.

“You know in little league they’d give wow awards?” Dick said. “The guys were saying that should be a wow-award winner.”

Gardner dived to his right to catch a line drive smashed by SES second baseman Logan Driscoll in the fourth inning. The Trojan fielder then crawled the rest of the way to the third base bag to convert a double play.

SES had managed two hits in the inning off starter Luke Moore, but Gardner’s play ended the fourth and squashed the purple Trojans’ momentum.

“That inning they started getting hot,” Gardner said. “It was just reaction.”

It was one of two diving plays Gardner made in the game. Also diving to his right he stopped a sharply hit ground ball destined for left field and threw the ball on a line to Kale Arnold at first for the second out of the seventh inning.

Even with the emphasis on great individual plays, baseball is a team game and Gardner needed Arnold for his other stellar defensive play in the sixth inning. Gardner sprinted into the infield from third and grabbed a slow rolling grounder with his bare right hand. Having to rush to make the play, his throw was low. Arnold picked the ball out of the dirt on a short hop for the final out of a 1-2-3 sixth inning. Gardner and Moore punctuated the play with demonstrative fist pumps.

“I think once we made that play it gave us confidence,” Gardner said. “I think the plays that I made were in clutch situations that got everyone fired up.”

Gardner and Dick said Arnold has improved greatly since committing multiple errors against Marion on May 6. Arnold has worked tirelessly in practice on his defense. The sophomore first baseman has both earned confidence and fixed some problems with the way he was preparing to scoop throws out of the dirt.

“We needed him over there at first because we needed his bat in the lineup,” Dick said.

Hillsboro’s only error in two games came on a throwing error by shortstop Lucas Sinclair in the first game. Loose footing under the sophomore shortstop led to a throw that forced Arnold off the bag.

The Hillsboro pitchers helped their defense by pitching fast and throwing strikes. Dylan Delk and Moore always pitch from the stretch, instead of throwing from a windup. Throwing from the stretch is a Hillsboro philosophy instituted by former head coach Phil Oelke. Dick was an assistant. It helps Hillsboro pitchers throw strikes with runners on base, when pitchers must throw from the stretch to check would-be base stealers, and it speeds the game up without the extra movement of the windup.

Senior Delk threw the first game against Marion. He pitched a complete game, allowing only one run in the third inning. He struck out eight hitters, allowed four hits, and surrendered three walks.

Delk’s fastball and curveball combination was overpowering. He struck out batters in every inning except the fourth. He ended the first with back-to-back punch outs. He struck out three Warriors in the second.

“Delk’s pitches move around and he throws a good deuce,” Dick said. “He was hitting his spots.”

Even though he had pitched a game worthy of a victory, Hillsboro was tied with Marion at 1-1 going into the bottom of the seventh.

“Delk has a rubber arm,” Dick said. “He said he was strong enough to go back out.”

Freshman designated hitter Jordan Faul was the hero at the plate for the Trojans in both games. He scored the first run after he reached base on a single up the middle. With two outs in the seventh, Faul reached base on an error. He was substituted by Cody Delk, who scored after Derek Kelsey was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.

“Anytime Hillsboro and Marion play it’s going to be a tight, good game,” Gardner said. “I know how the rivalry is.”

Faul was also 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI in the second game against SES to score Sinclair who reached on a single. Kelsey scored in the first inning against SES to give Hillsboro an early lead. Arnold also notched an RBI single to score Aaron Bina in the fifth inning.

With strong defense and a lead, junior Moore pitched a complete game shutout. Moore recorded two strikeouts while only walking two batters and allowing three hits. He ended his outing with three consecutive 1-2-3 innings. He forced nine groundouts and eight pop flies.

“They’re our two best pitchers,” Gardner said of Delk and Moore. “They know how to get it done.”

This is the third consecutive year the Trojans have made the 3A state tournament in Manhattan.

Dick said he was not sure how this year’s team would compete after losing senior ace Jacob Edwards, slugger Tyler Ediger, and leadoff man Jacob Fish to graduation in 2010.

“I’m proud of the guys and the way they battled,” Dick said. “They always find a way to win.”

Gardner said the Trojans will be better prepared for the state tournament this year, having the experience from the two previous seasons under their belts and the Trojan veterans should help younger players like Faul and Sinclair with potential nerves.

“I’ll just tell them to relax,” Gardner said. “Just do the things they’ve been taught.”

As the four seed in the 3A state tournament, the Trojans will play 15-7 Silver Lake at 1:30 p.m. Friday in the first round. If the Trojans defeat Silver Lake, they will face the winner of the one and eight-seed matchup between 23-0 Council Grove and 13-10 Frontenac at 10 a.m. Saturday. The state championship game is 5:30 p.m. Saturday; the third-place game is 3 p.m.

Last modified May 26, 2011

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