ZANESVILLE - Behind a gutsy pitching effort, timely hitting and rock-solid defense, Harrison Central is one victory away from the Division II state baseball tournament.
The Huskies (22-6) advanced to the Regional Final with a 3-0 shutout of Vincent Warren (15-10) Thursday afternoon at sun-scorched Gant Municipal Stadium. They will meet Waverly (21-7), which defeated West Holmes (19-9) by a 3-2 count to conclude Thursday's twinbill.
Today's game starts at 5 p.m. at the same venue.
Harrison Central’s ace pitcher Rashaen Mitchell signals to catcher Nick Staten after delivering a pitch against Vincent Warren during Thursday’s Division II game in Zanesville.
"What can you say about Rashaen Mitchell?" second-year Harrison Central coach Justin Clifford quipped. "What did he give up, just the one hit? Another 3-for-4 at the plate ... just a great performance by him."
Mitchell, who was hampered by a blister on his pitching hand (3rd inn.) and cramps in his left leg (6th inn.), struck out 10, walked four and hit a batter. The lone hit was a lead-off single to right in the second inning by Warriors' catcher Gunnar Smith, whose father (Chad) is a Beallsville graduate.
"There was no way I was coming out of the game," Mitchell said of his sixth-inning stint with cramps. I told (the coaches) to stretch me out. It's a big game and I'm not coming out."
That's what Clifford wanted to hear from his ace.
"He said he wasn't coming out, and I told him I wasn't taking him out," Clifford noted. "But if you can't throw a strike, you've got to (come out). He's a competitor and he battles."
"If he couldn't go, we would have had to get him, but it would've probably taken him not being able to walk to get him out of there."
While the lanky lefty was shutting down the Vincent Warren attack, he and his teammates were slowly building a lead.
Huskies catcher Nick Staten was hit by a pitch with one out in the top of the second.
Designated hitter Rhett Kuryn coaxed a four-pitch walk from Warriors' starter Danny Pannell, who is a Muskingum University recruit.
Sophomore Austin Kowalski, who is quickly acquiring the nickname 'Clutch,' punched a run-scoring single to center as Staten scored standing up.
"I didn't bat very much all season, and that's been the driving force behind me right now," the Huskies' second baseman admitted. "When I got my chance to hit, I wanted to make the best of it.
"I'm seeing the ball perfect. It's like it's coming in like a big balloon."
Vincent Warren mounted its only threat in the bottom of the inning when Smith singled and designated hitter David Ryan was plunked with a 1-2 pitch to put runners on first and second with no outs. After Evan Kidder moved both runners up 90 feet with a sacrifice bunt, that's when Mitchell buckled down.
The senior southpaw struck out Riley Bobo before getting Justin Hill on an inning-ending comeback.
"That was huge right there," Clifford said.
The three consecutive outs started a string where Mitchell retired 18 of the final 21 batters he faced. He walked Ethan Estes with two outs in the third; Estes again with one out in the sixth; and Smith leading off the seventh.
In between, he fanned the side in the fifth and ended the game in style by catching the final two hitters looking at strike three. In fact, four of the Ks were on lookers. Besides Smith's single, only one other ball was hit out of the infield, that being a fly to right which was gloved by Mitchell's younger brother, Kalub, in the fourth."
Even though he was a little shy of sensational, Mitchell admitted it wasn't one of his better mound performances.
"I pitched a lot better against Dover," he allowed after a 119-pitch effort, with 68 being strikes.
The Huskies added single tallies in the third and fourth innings to take command.
Mitchell laced an opposite-field double to the gap in left-center leading off the third. He scooted to third on Nick Pelegreen's grounder to short and trotted home when Drew Horn slapped a RBI single between third and short.
In the fourth, the Huskies played some small-ball to increase their margin. Dalton Rutter walked leading and was sacrificed to second by Dustin Redish. A wild pitch moved him to third, and he dented the plate when Rashaen Mitchell hit a high-chopper over first base.
Harrison Central also flashed a bit of leather as it turned two double plays and Redish went deep into the hole at short to make a play. The first twin-killing ended the first inning on a strike-them-out-throw-them-out by catcher Staten to Redish. The second resulted when Kowalski knocked down a hot shot, threw to Redish who relayed to Pelegreeen for the 4-6-3 rally-ender.
"When we hit the ball, play good defense and get good pitching, we're a pretty good team," Clifford said.