Valesko hired as Harrison’s baseball coach

CADIZ – Harrison Central didn’t have to look very far to find its next baseball coach.

Actually, the Harrison Central administration looked right into the Huskies dugout and pegged Mike Valesko as its new skipper, replacing Justin Clifford, who stepped down earlier this month.

“I am excited for the opportunity,” Valesko said. “I grew up here, went to school here, so this means a lot to me. I can’t thank the school enough for the opportunity.”

Valesko, 26, served as one of Clifford’s top assistants the past two seasons and doesn’t plan on changing much for a program that advanced to the Division II state tournament last June.

“Things won’t be much different,” Valesko said. “We want the kids to play hard every day. One thing that’s been established here is no matter who we’re playing, we expect to compete and give everything we have on every pitch. That mentality has been adopted throughout the entire school and when you do that things will turn out in your favor more than they’ll go against you.”

While excited and anxious to get started, Valesko wasn’t exactly in hot pursuit of the job.

However, when Clifford accepted an administrative position and the possibility of him coaching only basketball arose, Valesko expressed an interest.

“I am not happy to see Justin leaving (as baseball coach),” Valesko said. “He had things rolling and has done an excellent job. I am happy, however, that he recommended me and the school thought enough of me and trusted me to take over.”

Valesko is inheriting the defending OVAC, sectional, district and regional championship squad that returns six every day starters.

“It’s definitely nice to know we have some talent,” Valesko said. “I am fortunate to be able to take over a team that most coaches wouldn’t want to give up. We lost some quality kids to graduation, but we had a lot of young kids on our bench who were around for the tournament run and know what’s expected of them. We’re confident they’ll step up and compete well.”

Valesko, who owns a degree from the University of Akron in middle childhood education with a focus in math and social studies and teaches fifth-grade math at Harrison Central Elementary, knows his pitching staff will be young, but it’s a talented group.

“They’ve not thrown a lot of varsity innings, but they have good stuff,” Valesko said. “They’re not your typical sophomores with just one pitch. Our guys have two or three pitches they can consistently throw for a strike.”

Along with coaching under Clifford, Valesko played four years under Mike Saffell at Harrison and has worked for the past six years under Justin Kropka with the Huskies football team.

Valesko met with his team last week and hopes to begin the off-season program soon for those players not involved in a winter sport.

He’s also working on building a coaching staff. Expected to return from the 2013 staff are Todd Dunlap, Derek Madzia and Brian Gossett. According to Valesko, Chad Figurski and Ian Watt have also committed to coaching.

“It’s going to be a big staff,” Valesko said.

Valesko plans on continuing with the Harrison Central football program.

“We’re a small school, so we ask our kids to play two or three sports, why not coach two or three if possible?” Valeko said. “I want to give back to the kids and stay committed to as many programs as I can.”