North Xtra: North Hills set for rare playoff game

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It has been a while since North Hills was able to cheer for a winning baseball team. The previous time the Indians made the playoffs was in 2007 and the most recent winning season was in 2009. All that changed when they brought Randy Miller on board.

Coming off a two-win season in 2012, the Indians hired Miller, who started to change the outlook of the program last year before reaching a new level of success in 2014.

"I am very happy and proud of our kids and the program," Miller said. "When I came in here last year I guaranteed them we would change the culture of North Hills baseball. We have accomplished a lot but not everything.

"They understand our philosophy of don't accept being average. The kids didn't know what it took to win. What I tried to instill in them was good work ethic and winning values."

What Miller instilled was the first playoff game in seven years, Friday against No. 2 Baldwin at Burkett Complex in Robinson Township.

"One of the best things we improved on this year is to battle and be a tough out," Miller said. "When you are facing tough pitching in our section it is crucial. Our section play has allowed us to go out there and play a good Baldwin team with confidence."

The most amazing thing about this turnaround is the turnaround on the roster.

The Indians (11-7, 5-5) graduated seven starters from the past year but still have managed to progress in their tough section.

North Hills entered the playoffs on a five game win streak with two win-or-go-home scenarios against the top two teams in Class AAAA Section 1, North Allegheny and Butler.

The Indians snapped their seven game losing streak against rival North Allegheny May 2 with an 8-6 win, and clinched a playoff spot May 5 with a 3-2 win against Butler. Both teams were in first in the section at the time the Indians played them.

"The last two section games were playoff games," Miller said. "The light bulb is sort of going on for them and they realize they can do this. I can't even tell you the last time North Hills beat North Allegheny. It is a big rivalry. I told people to not be shocked, be proud. It is a completely different game. We can control what we can control."

The Indians put themselves in a place where they could control their own destiny, but it wasn't always so clear at the beginning of the season.

The Indians started to turn things around and look at themselves in a different light after suffering a heartbreaking 12-11 loss to New Castle April 10.

"In the sixth inning we were down five runs and we put up nine runs in the top of the sixth and they tied it and beat us in extra innings," Miller said. "We thought that could hurt us. We know who the favorites are and the games you have to win. They knew that one could hurt. I told them you have to let it go and move on. We come out and beat Seneca Valley two days later and started to move in the right direction.

"We really started to embrace our system since then. It is not going to be easy but we still control our own destiny in section play."

A big cog in the Indians' turnaround is the overall performance from senior Chad Meyer. Meyer is 4-1 on the year with 42 strikeouts and serves as one of their better hitters.

"He has really developed his breaking ball in the offseason," Miller said. "He got a lot stronger and a lot bigger and that helped with his velocity and at the plate. He was a big catalyst for us at the plate. He led our team with three home runs this year. He is hitting.425. He has good speed, too. He can run the bases for us, too."

Speed is an asset the Indians took advantage of this year. Last year they were more of a power team. This year the Indians are about every inch and that is something they have embraced from coach Miller.

"We had a lot of work to do," Miller said. "I don't force the kids to play my system. I try to get the best out of each player. Last year we were more of a power team. This year's team we have lots of speed. I really enjoy coaching that type of team. It really does take a mindset to get it done. You need to sacrifice yourself. They embraced that this year. They do what I ask them to do. We are competing night in and night out.

"This group has beaten every team in this section in the last two years and that is quite an accomplishment."

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