It'll be tough to top last season at Harrison Central.
After all, all the Huskies did in 2013 was finish 23-8 and win the OVAC regular-season and tournament championships.
Oh, yes. And there was that trip to Columbus for the Ohio Division II Final Four, too.
T-L Photo/MIKE PALMER
PICTURED ARE the key returnees for the Harrison Central baseball team. Front row, from left, are Zach Arbogast, Austyn Porter, Brandon Mitchell, Bryson Porter and Dustin Redish. Back row, from left, are Kalub Mitchell, Nick Staten, Dalton Rutter, Brennan Graves and Austin Kowalski.
All great accomplishments. And all signified by banners proudly displayed in the school's gym.
But this is a new year, according to first-year head coach Mike Valesko. It's time to make new memories.
''One of the things about building a good program is that you lose great players, but the next guy has to be ready to step up and play.''
Valesko replaces Justin Clifford, also the school's boys' basketball coach, who decided to step down to focus more on his young and growing family as well as his new position as an administrator.
Clifford certainly left the Huskies in good shape.
''We return five starters off of last year's team and a handful of guys who saw a lot of playing time last season,'' Valesko said. ''There will be a lot of young guys in the lineup, but we feel as if they have plenty of playing experience.''
Nick Staten, Dalton Rutter, Austin Kowalski, Kalub Mitchell and Dustin Redish are the returning starters. Other letterwinners back include Brennan Graves, Giovanni Rocchi, Brandon Mitchell, Austyn Porter, Bryson Porter and Zach Arbogast.
Redish went 2-2 on the mound last season with 38 strikeouts and a 2.31 ERA. He'll bolster the staff.
''He constantly throws strikes,'' Valesko said. ''He saw a lot of meaningful innings last year, including in the state semifinals. Dustin became our team's No. 2 pitcher last year as a freshman.''
Others likely to see time on the hill include Graves, a senior, Arbogast, Bryson Porter, Rocchi and Ian Saho, all sophomores, and freshman Tyler Redish.
Behind the plate, the Huskies have an anchor in Staten, a senior. He had 19 hits and 14 RBI in 2013.
''He's caught every game for us the last two years,'' Valesko said. ''We believe Nick is one of the best defensive catchers in the valley. Nick is one of the smarter baseball players we've had play for us and he really understands the game.
''Nick is great for our pitchers and has the ability to call the games from behind the plate.''
Graves and Saho will split time at first.
''Brennan, unfortunately, had Rashaen Mitchell and Nick Pelegreen ahead of him the last three seasons and it's been hard for him to get on the field,'' Valesko said. This year, he'll anchor down first, as well as pitch.''
Kowalski, a sophomore, will play second. He batted .308 last season, with nine RBI. He only struck out six times.
Rocchi and Arbogast will man the hot corner.
Arbogast will also play at short with Dustin Redish. Dustin made just four errors in playing every game at short last season and batted .290 with 29 hits, 19 RBI and 15 stolen bases.
''Dustin will be asked to do a lot for us this year,'' Valesko said. ''He has the ability to be one of the best players we've had at Harrison Central.''
Heading up the outfield will be the team's leadoff hitter - Rutter - who'll play centerfield.
''Everything offensively starts with Dalton,'' Valesko said of the senior, who hit .430 last year with 46 hits and 41 runs scored.
Kalub Mitchell, a junior, (.295 last season) will be in right.
In left, both Porters and Brandon Mitchell are battling for playing time.
Valesko is assisted by Todd Dunlap, Chad Figurski, Brian Gossett, Ian Watt, Derek Madzia, Mike Saffell and Brandon Ludwig.
Harrison Central's schedule is as follows. All times are 5 p.m. unless noted.
March 29 - Cambridge (DH), Noon; March 31 - at Bellaire; April 1 - at Oak Glen; April 2 - Bellaire; April 4 - Buckeye Local; April 5 - Monroe Central (DH), Noon; April 7 - at Buckeye Local; April 9 - at Union Local; April 11 - Union Local; April 14 - Indian Creek; April 15 - Weir (at Consol Energy Park), 4 p.m.; April 16 - at Indian Creek; April 19 - at Martins Ferry (DH), Noon; April 21 - at Edison; April 22 - Beaver Local; April 23 - Edison; April 25 - St. Clairsville; April 28 - at St. Clairsville; April 30 - Oak Glen; May 1 - at Brooke; May 7 - Shadyside; May 8 - Conotton Valley