Keller paces Howland past Hubbard, 4-2

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Howland’s Dylan Keller led the Tigers to a 4-2 victory over Hubbard on Tuesday in a Division II sectional first-round tournament game.

HUBBARD — The Howland Tigers baseball team came in as the No. 11 seed in the Division II Struthers District, but a different number is what stuck in the mind of Hubbard coach John Schiraldi.

It was the number “one,” as in Howland’s No. 1 pitcher, Dylan Keller, a hard-throwing right-hander with a scholarship to pitch at the University of Dayton.

“That’s not the typical bottom-seed team that you’ll see,” said Schiraldi, whose sixth-seeded Eagles drew Howland in the first round of the tournament. “They’ve got a kid with a Division I (college) scholarship pitching for them.”

He showed why, too.

Keller allowed just two runs, and right fielder Hayden Parker threw out two baserunners at the plate in Howland’s 4-2 victory over the Eagles on Tuesday at Hubbard High School.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Nick Ferrara of Hubbard pitches Tuesday against Howland.

An ugly season became a lot better looking for the Tigers, who improved to 3-16 and face third-seeded Cardinal Mooney today in a district quarterfinal.

“The seniors deserve it,” Howland coach Justin Drapp said. “This whole team deserves it. They’ve been battling all year, just fell short a couple times. The important thing is that we stuck together, and we never gave up, and it showed tonight.”

Keller allowed just four hits, walked three and struck out six, including the final batter of the game, who represented the tying run as Hubbard (14-10) had a runner on second base. Keller had plenty of help as well.

Parker made two great throws and also led Howland with three hits. His throws were the key, however. The first came on a shallow pop out to right, with the game tied at 1 in the fourth inning. Parker charged in and caught the ball going toward the foul line. He quickly came up firing, and the runner was tagged out on a play that wasn’t all that close.

Earlier in the inning, with runners on first and third, the Eagles attempted a double steal, with the runner on first going to second and the runner on third darting for home when the catcher made the throw. The Tigers were ready for it, though, and the second baseman immediately threw home to cut the runner down.

“Both teams made mistakes,” Schiraldi said. “We didn’t capitalize as many times as they did. We ran into some stupid outs, but guys were trying to be aggressive because you know when you face a guy like (Keller), you’re not going to rip off 16 hits or anything like that.

“We knew it would be a nip-and-tuck game. We didn’t come out here expecting this to be a 10-run game.”

The Tigers rode the momentum to a pair of runs in the top of the fifth, taking advantage of an error, two walks and a hit batter. Dylan Beasom also hit a clutch run-scoring single to left as Howland went up 3-1. Then it was Parker’s time to shine again.

Hubbard had runners on first and third with no one out after the Tigers started the inning with two errors. Nick Ferrara then hit a liner to right field, and Parker again heaved a seed to home. The throw was cut off — even though it was a perfect strike — but Howland still had time to relay it to the catcher for the out.

“Parker’s been throwing like that from right field all year,” Drapp said. “He’s a big defensive weapon we have out there. We did make a couple errors, but what was important is we didn’t let it snowball affect. We had the mental toughness, we stuck behind our pitcher and battled through our adversity.”

The Eagles, whose season isn’t over as they can still claim a share of the league title, made it a one-run game after Evan Jarvis doubled to right-center and scored on a ground out, but Howland added an insurance run in the seventh, and Keller finished things off.

The senior pitcher hopes there’s more to come from a team he feels has the potential to make a run.

“The district championship is always the goal,” he said. “At the beginning of the season, we said we wanted to win the league, but obviously that didn’t happen. We didn’t have the regular season we wanted, but now we’re in the playoffs. We’ve got to make it happen.”