Rivals have turned into friends, teammates
CADIZ – The seniors on the Harrison Central baseball team haven’t always been teammates, or for that fact, friends. They were always rivals until they united in high school.
Growing up, a handful of current Huskies played Little League in Hopedale, while some played in Cadiz and others in Jewett.
“We’ve either played on the same team or against each other,” senior Nick Pelegreen allowed. “But most of us on this team played in Hopedale for the Dodgers. There’s probably five guys on our team that played in Hopedale.
“We spent many years as rivals.”
Classmate Rashaen Mitchell was one of them.
“We were rivals when we were 9 and 10 years old,” Mitchell admitted. “He (Nick) ruled everything down there (in Hopedale) and I ruled everything in Cadiz.
“They (Hopedale) always seemed to win because they had more talent than we did, but we did beat them in a championship game once.”
However, now that they are teammates, they are all on the same mission – winning a state championship.
“It’s been fun playing with Rashaen and the other guys,” Pelegreen admitted. “We’re all in it for the same reason now.”
“Baseball is my favorite sport by far. Getting to this level is definitely a great feeling.”
NOT HIS FIRST GO-ROUND
Harrison Central second-year head coach Justin Clifford is no stranger to the state baseball semifinals.
During his sophomore year (1997) at St. Clairsville, he was a member of the Red Devils’ team that advanced to the Final Four. Coached by Richard “Lefty” Hall, St. Clairsville bowed out after a semifinal loss to Canton Central Catholic.
So, what will Clifford take from that game to help this year’s team?
“You know people have asked me that, but to be honest with you, I remember a little about the experience, but you’re young and dumb and you don’t really appreciate what it’s worth when you’re there at 15-16 years old.
“It’s a lot more special now because you see how much time coaches put into it, and maybe do a better job than I do, and never get to this level.
“It’s pretty special.”
A LITTLE HELP FROM HIS FRIEND
When seeking information about teams from the Columbus area, Clifford looked no further than his best friend and former college roommate at Muskingum College – Ryan Alexander.
Alexander is now the head baseball coach at Division I Grove City High School. He has led his team to a pair of Final Fours, including last season when they were beaten by eventual champion Cincinnati Moeller.
“Ryan has a great D-1 program at Grove City and he has been able to help us out scouting-wise a couple of games,” Clifford said of Alexander. “He sees most of these teams so we’ve been relying on him for a lot of information. He’s been a great help.”
WILD TIMES IN HARRISON COUNTY
Pelegreen and Mitchell said the past week has been like a whirlwind in the Harrison County seat.
“It’s been wild around town,” Mitchell confessed. “Everyone has been telling me congratulations and good luck. It’s amazing the amount of people that come up to you that you don’t even know.”
“It’s just been crazy,” he said. “We’ve got all of these people ordering our state Final Four t-shirts. It’s crazy. It’s an amazing feeling that all of these people are into it and supporting us.”
BEHIND THE SCENES GUYS
A ton of credit has been given to the players and Clifford, but he hasn’t forgotten his coaching staff in the least.
“These guys don’t get the credit that they deserve,” Clifford said of assistant coaches Derek Madzia, Todd Dunlap, Mike Valesko and Brian Gossett. “Somebody has to make me look smart, and it’s those guys. They do so much for this program and the kids that people don’t even realize.
“It’s been a pleasure to be around them.”
LONG TIME COMING
The last eastern Ohio baseball team to capture a state championship was way back in 1994 when Steubenville Central accomplished the feat.
In fact, the Crusaders, who claimed the Division IV title in that memorable season with a 7-2 win over Crestline, took the same route that the Huskies have taken.
The Blue-and-Gold of head coach Craig Farrar won their sectional and district trophies in Steubenville and their regional in Zanesville. But, back then, the state tournament was held Bill Davis Stadium on the campus of The Ohio State University.
The Crusaders had a lethal 1-2 pitching combination of lefties Bobby Sismondo and KC Kirlangitis.
Edison played in the 2002 Division II championship game, falling to Tallmadge, 6-1.
Barnesville made the state semifinals in 2004 before dropping a 9-2 decision to New Albany.
The last team from The Times Leader coverage area to capture a state baseball title was the Skyvue Hawks in 1985. Mitch Hannahs was the standout player. The head coach was Mark Huffman.
NOT FIRST TIME FOR SCHOOL DISTRICT
This may be the Huskies first trip to the baseball Final Four, but the school district has been there twice before.
Cadiz High School advanced to the state tournament in 1982 and 1986. The 1982 Cardinals made it to the title tilt before succumbing to Columbus Academy, 12-0. Four years later, they dropped a 2-1 semi nod to eventual champion Ottawa Hills.
The Harrison Central baseball team will depart Cadiz at approximately 9 a.m. Thursday.
According to Clifford, when you reach this level, “these are the cream of the crop. Someone told me there are 191 schools with baseball, there are four left.”
Clifford said the Pioneers, who won the state title two seasons ago, have a “very good” high school catcher.
“We drove about nine hours the other day to see them play about an hour of baseball,” he said of the trip to Xenia when J-A dispatched No. 2 ranked Tippecanoe Tipp City, 3-0. “They pitched their No. 2 guy, so we didn’t get to see their ace. They fielded the ball very well and they got timely hitting.”
Clifford said the ace pitcher made two outstanding plays while playing second base against the Red Devils.
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