Harrison Central on a Mission

CADIZ – The Harrison Central baseball team is entering unchartered waters.

This afternoon, the Huskies will meet Jonathan Alder in the Division II state semifinals on the grass surface at Huntington Park in downtown Columbus’ Arena District. The first pitch is set for 4.

That survivor advances to Saturday’s 1 p.m. championship game against the Akron Hoban-Defiance winner. Defiance is the No. 1-ranked team in the state.

“These guys have battled day-in and day-out every game this season,” second-year Harrison Central coach Justin Clifford said. “It’s been fun to come to work every day, so to say.”

The Huskies reeled off nine straight victories to start the season before falling at Buckeye Local and wound up 18-7.

Once the postseason began, the Huskies’ mission also got under way.

They breezed past Buckeye Local 13-3 in a six-inning game to start sectional action at Vaccaro Field in Steubenville. In the sectional final against Carrollton, it appeared as the Huskies’ season was over a couple of different times as the Warriors were a worthy opponent.

However, after 12 grueling innings, Harrison Central prevailed, 8-7, for its 20th triumph.

The Huskies followed that up with a convincing 6-2 nod against Dover in the one-game district, which moved Harrison Central further than any team in school history.

Harrison Central fans flocked in droves to Gant Municipal Stadium in Zanesville for the Region 7 tournament last week, and they were treated to a pair of special games by the Huskies.

In the semis, senior Rashaen Mitchell was nothing short of superlative in a 3-0 whitewashing of Vincent Warren. The lanky lefty struck out 10, walked four and only yielded one hit.

If that wasn’t enough, he also singled twice and doubled.

Standing between the Huskies and their first state appearance was state-ranked Waverly.

The Tigers quickly shot out to a commanding lead thanks to some shoddy fielding by the Huskies. They led 7-1 after three innings and the Huskies’ fate seemed bleak.

However, digging deep down, the Huskies battled and battled, eventually winning on, of all things, a balk in the bottom of the seventh that capped a miracle comeback for an 8-7 win.

“That was amazing,” Clifford said of that win. “I’m almost at a loss for words.”

Mitchell, no doubt the team leader, has a team-high .558 batting average with a team-best 32 RBI. His 12 doubles and four triples also are team highs. He is also 16 of 18 in stolen bases.

On the mound, the southpaw has all five postseason victories, with two coming in relief. He is 10-1 on the year with an ERA under 1. He has recorded 94 punchouts and walked 35 batters in 56 innings of work.

The Huskies’ No. 2 pitcher is classmate Nick Pelegreen. He is 3-1 and started the Carrollton and Waverly games.

“It makes my job a whole lot easier with two horses on the mound like Rashaen and Nick,” Clifford said.

Pelegreen is also the second-leading run producer for Harrison Central with 31 RBI. He is the lone Huskie to slug a home run. He has two. He hits at a .372 clip and has three doubles.

Junior Dalton Rutter, a rangy centerfielder, sets the table. The left-handed hitter has a .427 average and has scored a team-high 41 runs. He has driven home 12 runs and has 43 singles among his 44 hits. He is also 6 of 7 in stolen bases.

Freshman Dustin Redish is the Huskies’ No. 2 hitter. Playing well beyond his age of 15, Redish has developed into one of the premier shortstops. However, his best performances have come in a pair of middle relief stints when he closed the door against Carrollton and Waverly and gave his team a chance to win.

Mitchell and Pelegreen hit out of the No. 3 and No. 4 holes, respectively, with senior third baseman Drew Horn checking in at the No. 5 spot. He has a .311 norm with six two-baggers and 17 runs batted in.

The No. 6 hitter is Nick Staten. He has eight doubles and 14 RBI while hitting .226. Next is designated hitter Rhett Kuryn, who bats .268 with four doubles and 17 RBI. Austin Kowalski, the second baseman, has bumped his average above the .300 mark (.316). He has a dozen singles and had driven in nine runs.

Ryan Rose plays left field for the Huskies.