Some excellent baseball teams feature outstanding defenders at key positions. Others might have a line-up of power hitters. Others still might have one or two “lights out” pitchers who seemingly can get an out whenever it’s needed.
And then there is Hiland’s second team Inter-Valley Conference catcher Isaiah Miller. A senior who’s been playing organized ball since he was five years old, Isaiah is a key reason why the 26-4 Hawks are entering the OHSAA’s District 15 Regional as the highest-seeded team in the tournament.
Miller has all the tools you’d expect of a senior leader. He hits. Isaiah’s .416 average is among the team leaders. He hits with power, pacing the squad with four home runs.
He knocks home runs. Isaiah tops Hiland with 41 RBIs, and he’s also hitting .455 with runners in scoring position. He’s second on the team in both slugging percentage (.675) and on-base plus slugging (.OPS) with a 1.197 mark.
Behind the dish, Isaiah calls a great game and is quick to use his arm and glove to gun down enemy runners. His .991 fielding percentage is tops among all Hiland regulars, and he and his pitchers have combined to catch 14 opposing baserunners trying to steal so far on the season.
Coach Chris Dages is quick to shower praise on his catcher. “Isaiah calls his own games behind the plate and he does an excellent job of utilizing our pitchers’ strengths in both placement and pitch type,” he explains. “He’s also an excellent pitch blocker, and he’s worked hard to maintain his defensive game at a very high level. His ability to keep pitches in the dirt in front of him gives our pitchers the confidence to throw off-speed pitches in tough situations.”
“Isaiah’s arm is also strong and accurate,” Dages adds. “He has the ability to shut down an opponent’s running game with just one caught stealing throw.”
Hiland’s head coach and assistant coach Kendall Schlabach both get high marks from Isaiah for improving his game this season. “Coach Dages has been great in showing me how to block the ball well,” he says. “He’s always pushing me too get even better at the catching position, whether it is framing, receiving, or blocking.
“Coach Kendall has always reminded me that there is always somebody working for my spot and that there is always somebody else who is trying to be better than me and our team,” he adds. “He has also helped me to not over-think my at bats.”
Isaiah also credits his father, Wes, who’s doubled as his coach for many years, and Hiland assistant coach Richie Mast as great influencers on his game. “My dad has been such an encouraging person, and he’s always given me points on my swing and other aspects of baseball,” he recalls. “And in Coach Richie’s eyes you can always give a little more. He does a great job of getting that extra bit of effort out of me, no matter the situation.”
A relaxed attitude with teammates, many of whom he’s known for much of his life, is also an integral reason why Isaiah and the Hawks’ play is so outstanding right now. “We’ve been together for a long time, and that means each person knows what to do (on the diamond) and does it really well,” Isaiah explains. “We know we can get to State Finals. We’re tight as a team, and we enjoy hanging out and sticking together. We do that now and we’ll do it after the season is over too.”
But one would be unwise to confuse relaxed with not staying focused. “Isaiah’s work ethic is second to none. When we have off-day bullpen (work) he wants to be the one doing the catching,” Coach Dages says. “It gives him a chance to work on his skills and the opportunity to become more familiar with his pitchers.”
Perhaps Isaiah’s best game of this season came on April 20, when his two-out, two-on RBI double was the game-winning hit in a 7-6 comeback victory over Triway’s Titans at Canal Park in Akron. Not only did Isaiah drive home a total of five runs that day, he tagged out a runner trying to score in a 9-3-2 double play that ended a Titan threat early in the game. Later he also gunned down a Triway runner trying to steal second.
Canal Park is a place where Isaiah and his teammates would like to return. The 2021 OHSAA State Championships/State Finals will be held there June 10-12.
(NOTE: EyeOnCleveland’s John Kerezy wrote this story. He’s also working on an OHSAA Div. IV Region 15 Tournament preview story. If all goes well, look for that on Tuesday, June 1.)