Friendly reunion on the diamond

Centerville head baseball coach Ryan Hodges (11) goes over pregame instructions with Moravia head baseball coach Bill Huisman (27) on Saturday at Fenton Field prior to high school baseball action between the Big Reds and Mohawks. Huisman coached Centerville for 38 years before stepping away. Hodges, a former assistant coach under Huisman, has led Centerville to three straight state tournament appearances including the Class 2A state championship in 2018.

MORAVIA — Ryan Hodges and Bill Huisman have shared for several games as Appanoose County baseball coaches.

For the first time on Saturday, however, they stood across the field from each other rather than on the same side of the diamond.

Hodges and Huisman matched wits while exchanged banter throughout seven innings at Fenton Field. In the end, it was Huisman’s former squad that got the better of his current one as third-ranked (3A) Centerville earned a 14-5 road win over Moravia, giving Hodges a win in his first head-to-head match-up with his mentor.

“I have so much respect for Bill. Just to have the opportunity to coach against him was pretty special,” Hodges said. “It was weird in a sense. On one hand, you want to go beat the guy. On the other hand, there’s so much respect that’s still there. It was almost like we were still coaching together.”

The comradery was evident at the start of every inning. With Centerville coming up to bat, Hodges would head to the third base coaching box located right next to Moravia’s home dugout.

Each time, Hodges and Huisman would continue a conversation that began when Centerville arrived on Saturday morning for the game. The conversation even carried over while Big Red batters where taking pitches from the Mohawks.

“Bill and I have such a good relationship that we could go months without seeing each other and pick up a conversation like it was yesterday,” Hodges said. “It was definitely kind of a weird experience to go up against him, but it was also pretty cool.”

Centerville was undeterred by the end of an active week of five road games in five days. Brady Kauzlarich raced all the way home from second base in the first inning on a groundout by cousin Kayden Kauzlarich two batters into the game.

“It was a lot easier than you would think. Right from the time we took infield when we came here, we felt so much better,” Kayden Kauzlarich said. “You could definitely feel the mood change in the team. We needed that. We’re back and we’re better than ever.”

Centerville kept it up at the plate, scoring four times in the second inning with four hits and five straight base runners helping the Big Red rally. Myles Clawson and Kade Mosley collected back-to-back RBI singles before Brady Kauzlarich doubled in a run with his second at-bat in as many innings.

“I had to chuckle a little bit. That’s Huisman ball right there,” Hodges said. “He knows what I’m thinking and I know what he’s thinking most of the time. It’s funny. There was a first-to-third play at one point and I was trying to remember what his calls were. I asked him about it later. He told me I got it right.”

Centerville scored at least one run in every inning, keeping the pressure on the young Mohawks in the field throughout the day. Huisman, who led the Big Reds to 868 wins in 38 seasons and a pair of state championships, can certainly attest to the talent of the current Centerville baseball squad.

“I was sitting there during the game thinking about it. They’ve got the speed. They’ve got the power. They’ve got the defense. They’ve got the pitching,” Huisman said breaking down his former team. “Centerville’s got another quality baseball team. It’s nice to see them up close and personal again. I’ve lost track of some of these guys, but it was nice to be back on the field with them.”

Kayden Kauzlarich, who has grown up with several family members that played for Huisman, was equally honored to share the field with a man synonymous with success on the baseball diamond throughout Appanoose County.

“Growing up with Coach Huisman, you grow up wanting to play for him,” Kauzlarich said. “I remember watching him win the state title in 2008. I dreamed about that. It was cool to be on the same field as him. He’s a Centerville legend.”

Moravia showed the grit of so many Huisman-coached teams on Saturday, scoring three times in the fifth inning. Bryce Kaster doubled in two runs with two outs, pulling Moravia within 8-3, before Will Martin was thrown out trying to advance from first base to third on the play.

“We’re still making base-running mistakes,” Huisman said. “We’re making a comeback. It’s 8-3. I’ve Cason (Butz) coming up. If he gets a hold of one, it’s an 8-6 ballgame, but we don’t get that chance because we ran ourselves out of an inning. We keep making the same mistakes that we need to figure out how to control.”

Hodges has no doubt that Huisman will get the Mohawks to erase those mistakes.

“Both my assistant coaches have played and coached with Bill for several years. It’s funny seeing how much he’s mellowed over the past five or six years, but you still see those flashes,” Hodges said. “You can tell Bill still has that fire. Moravia’s lucky to have him.”

Huisman feels the same way about Hodges, who had the tough task of taking over Centerville baseball after Huisman’s retirement after the 2014 season. Saturday’s win was the 101st for Hodges in six seasons as Centerville’s head coach with the last three resulting in state tournament trips including a run to the 2018 Class 2A state title.

“He’s one of the reasons I felt comfortable stepping away when I did. He was ready to take over the team. It was a no-brainer,” Huisman said. “I knew Ryan was going to be successful. He’s a great individual and he knows the game of baseball. He’s a super guy.”

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

Scott Jackson can be reached at sjackson@ottumwacourier.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.

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