Entering the season, the Hardaway baseball team was a contender, but somewhat of an afterthought in many conversations about the Region 1-5A race. Teams like Columbus, Northside and even LaGrange have been talked about most as the primary challengers for the region crown.
On Thursday, the Hawks showed why they may be more than just a playoff pretender during region play.
Hardaway defeated Northside 4-2 behind a complete-game effort from pitcher Mykel Page. It ground out just three hits but scored four runs in the third and fourth innings combined to take control of the game.
Page, who threw 110 pitches in the game, got stronger as the game went along. Coach Chris Gilstrap said his velocity picked up in the sixth inning as he struck out three of the final seven batters, allowed no hits and walking just one during that period.
“He had the juices flowing,” Gilstrap said of Page. “Everything was working for him. He did a fantastic job.”
“Usually, I get stronger later in the game instead of earlier,” Page said after the game. “I don’t know why, but it just happens.”
Page’s final line was seven innings and seven hits allowed, two earned runs and eight strikeouts to just the one walk. The walk came with two outs in the final frame, but Gilstrap never considered making a change.
“It was his to win or lose,” Gilstrap said. “We’re not blessed with the depth of having three or four guys we can run to the pen. Our starters know that when they get out there, they better give us five or six good innings. And if they can give us seven, we’re going to get it. (Page) is our best, and we were going to win or lose with our best.”
The Hawks were mostly quiet at the plate, but ground out three hits over the course of the game. They scored two each in the third and fourth innings, taking advantage of a few freebies in the third to get things going.
With two outs and nobody on base, Hardaway had three straight reach base on two hit batters and a walk. Sam Anthony followed with a hard single to center field that brought in the team’s first two runs.
In the fourth inning, Jonathan Manibusan led off with a double. The next batter, Alex Bemiss, sacrificed Manibusan to second and reached base himself on an error. Manibusan moved up to third on the play. Manibusan was thrown out after getting caught in a run-down at home on a grounder by Chandler Griggs, the next batter, but Bemiss and Griggs advanced to second and third on the play. Hunter Duke followed with a single to center field that scored both runners.
“Our guys did a great job,” Gilstrap said. “The first two runs we scored, we had no one on with two outs. Anybody in our lineup is capable. When we get somebody on with speed, put some pressure on, a big hit here and there, and we can squeeze out two runs.”
The win made Hardaway 2-0 early in Region 1-5A play. Gilstrap knows it’s early, but he also said it was evidence that his team is among that top group vying for region supremacy.
“I don’t necessarily think people are dying to play us, but you’ve got a lot of naysayers and people that look at what we’ve got and our lack of depth,” Gilstrap said. “Day in and day out, we’re going to grind it out with anybody that we play. Our guys play hard and they’ve got guts and they play hard for us.”
Hardaway 4, Northside 2
WP: Mykel Page. LP: Jalen Latta. Top hitters: Northside, Drew Haywood 2-3, RBI, 2B, Dalton Bradford 2-3, 2B, R; Hardaway, Sam Anthony 1-3, 2 RBIs, Jonathan Manibusan 1-2, 2B, Hunter Duke 1-3, 2 RBIs. Records: Northside, 5-3, 1-1; Hardaway, 5-1, 2-0. Next: Northside, Tuesday at Harris County; Hardaway, Monday vs. Lee County at home.