COLUMBUS - Harrison Central's first trip to the state baseball tournament was a walk in the park, literally.
Unfortunately for the Huskies, the walk led directly to a 11-1 setback to Plain City Jonathan Alder in a Division II semifinal at cloudy, but picturesque Huntington Park in the downtown Arena District.
A trio of Harrison Central hurlers combined for 10 base-on-balls, plus they hit a pair of Pioneers.
HARRISON CENTRAL’S Dalton Rutter (10) dives safely back into third base Friday morning against Plain City Jonathan Alder. The Huskies dropped a 11-1 decision. Additional images can be found at cu.timesleaderonline.com
"You can't walk that many guys and expect to win," Harrison Central head coach Justin Clifford allowed. "That's what we just talked about with the kids.
"We got ourselves behind the 8-ball a little bit by not throwing strikes," the second-year Huskies' skipper added. "It just wasn't Rashaen (Mitchell), it was everybody. That's the way the game goes."
After a scoreless first inning, the Pioneers (24-8) took advantage of Mitchell's wildness, combined with a tight strike zone, to push four runs across the plate with the benefit of only one base hit.
With one out, the senior southpaw walked designated hitter Connor Headings. After Headings was sacrificed to second by Bret Yutzy, Jon Peters was inserted as a pinch runner. Trent Kaltenbach took a Mitchell offering through the right side of the infield as Peters scored easily with the first tally of the game.
That's when Mitchell's control suddenly went south. He walked the next five JA hitters as the count grew to 4-0. Clifford had seen enough and summoned freshman Dustin Redish to halt the rally. The 15-year-old did just that with a strikeout.
"I don't think it was so much nerves," Clifford said of the shaky start. "We just didn't get a pitch here, a pitch there. We were two pitches away from getting out of that inning, but instead, we give up four runs."
Mitchell had a hard time explaining what occurred during that fateful frame.
"About the only thing I can say is that I couldn't buy a strike out there today," the Huskies' ace said. "I was putting them (the pitches) there, I just wasn't getting the calls. I probably could've put them better but I'm used to pitching on the corners.
"It wasn't my day, I guess."
Redish was touched up for a run in the fourth when winning pitcher Brad Miller smacked a double to the leftfield corner. After stealing third, Miller came home on a one-out suicide-squeeze bunt by Pete Whitmer.
Harrison Central threatened in the bottom of the fourth as Mitchell laced a one-out double down the leftfield line. Nick Pelegreen walked and Drew Horn was plunked with an 0-2 pitch that loaded the bases. However, the home plate umpire ruled Horn didn't try to avoid being hit by the pitch, thus calling it ball one. Horn eventually struck out.
"He told me he leaned over the plate," Clifford said of the umpire's decision. "That's sports. Sometimes you get the breaks. Sometimes you don't.
"We were a pitch from loading the bases with one out, but instead, there's two outs now."
Casey Graber's two-run seeing-eye single up the middle greeted Pelegreen as the margin ballooned to 7-0.
The Huskies avoided being shutout with their lone run coming in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Austin Kowalski was hit-by-a-pitch, but was erased on a fielder's choice off the bat of Kalub Mitchell. Dalton Rutter rifled a single to right and Redish was plunked to load the bases. Rashaen Mitchell's opposite-field liner down the leftfield line was a mere inches foul, but he came right back with a grounder to the right side of the infield that plated younger brother, Kalub.
"The kids never gave up," Clifford noted. "We had the bases loaded a couple of times. We just never got a break."
Jonathan Alder added four more runs in the top of the seventh for the final margin of victory. Graber had the big blow, a two-run double to right. Whitmer followed with an RBI double to the fence in left, and Scott Peters' run-scoring base hit concluded the outburst.
"Sure we're disappointed that we didn't win today and again tomorrow," Clifford added. "But when the kids look back on it 30 years from now, they'll appreciate it a little more.
"This is a huge step for our program," he continued. "No team in Harrison County has ever done this before in a team sport. Yes, they're hurting right now because they're competitors, and they should. They've got a lot to be proud of."
Graber paced the Pioneers' nine-hit attack with a single, double and bases-loaded walk to account for five RBI. Whitmer totalled three ribbies.
Rutter and Rashaen Mitchell each had two hits for Harrison Central. Kalub Mitchell and Rhett Kuryn had the others.
Rashaen Mitchell walked six and struck out three in a pair of stints on the hill. Redish had four Ks and a trio of walks, while Pelegreen struck out one and issued one free pass.
Miller fanned eight and walked two for JA.
Jonathan Alder 040 120 4 - 11 9 0
Harrison Central 000 010 0 - 1 6 0
Batteries: Miller and Kaltenbach. R. Mitchell, Redish (2), Pelegreen (6), R. Mitchell (7) and Staten.
North can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org