The Highland baseball team doesn’t know a whole lot about Olentangy Liberty other than the general assumption that the 28-4 Patriots are pretty darn good.
Kenmore-Garfield, Wadsworth, Archbishop Hoban, Medina, Mentor and Massillon Jackson can attest that the Hornets are pretty good, too, despite a deceiving 19-9 record and No. 43 ranking in the Prep Baseball Report Division I state poll.
The underdog card isn’t on the Hornets’ minds as they enter a state semifinal against Liberty at 10 o’clock this morning at Huntington Park, home of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, because they have all the confidence in the world after knocking off defending state champion Massillon Jackson last week.
The winner gets Mason (26-5) or Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (26-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“(The postseason has been) incredible,” junior center fielder Tyler Savron said. “I almost had tears after the Jackson game because I was so happy. It was crazy.
“I know all them (my teammates) and me are confident we can win this. We know we can beat them.”
Ranked sixth in the PBR poll, the Patriots hail from the 31-team, five-division Ohio Capital Conference and defeated Olentangy (21-10), Olentangy Orange (2017 state semifinalist), Westerville North (10-18), Westerville South (5-22) and Westerville Central (11-13, 2015 state runner-up) for the Buckeye Division title. They won three straight one-run games before crushing New Albany 8-1 for the first regional championship in school history.
Coach Ty Brenning’s team isn’t an offensive juggernaut but has allowed only 2.7 runs per game. Left-hander Mitch Milheim (9-0, 1.15 ERA) is an Ohio State recruit and righty No. 2 Jack Metzger is 4-0 with a 0.78 ERA, but Brenning was coy when asked who would start in a statewide teleconference Wednesday, saying the decision would not be made until late Thursday.
Another OSU commit, right fielder Mitchell Okuley (.360, .487 on-base, 22 RBIs, 12 SBs), highlights the offense. Okuley was the quarterback for the Liberty football teams that reached the 2016 and ’17 state semis.
Senior third baseman Carson Comer is headed to Alderson-Broaddus — his brother Cameron is the starting catcher for Virginia — while sophomore outfielders Brennan Rowe (.378, 21 RBIs) and Corbin Parrish (.352, 25 RBIs, 11 SB) and four-year catcher Peter Atkinson, who Brenning called a “Gold Glove guy,” are others to watch.
“They’re super team-centered, and I really believe that is the strength of the team,” Brenning said.
Highland is 12-1 in May, with the only loss coming to D-II state semifinalist Tallmadge. While the offense has posted similar numbers to the regular season, the pitching (1.47 ERA) and defense (3 errors in 6 games) have improved phenomenally.
Coach Jay Grissom didn’t hesitate when asked to name a starter, as the Hornets will go with senior Bryce Budzinski (5-1, 1.98 ERA), who is 3-0 with a 0.70 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 20 postseason innings. No. 2 starter Jonathan Ambro (2-1, 4.04), Brenden Meikle (3-0, 2.82), Gavin Noble (3-1, 5.13) and Andrew Shaw (2-2, 2.22) are bullpen options.
“(Budzinski is) the guy that has pitched big game after big game for us over the past three years,” Grissom said. “He’s a guy we love having on the mound in a game like this, for sure.”
The offense has little power — Grissom joked the team home run total would increase to “one” if someone goes yard this morning — but features strong 1-9 balance. The order of Savron (.362, 16 runs), Sam Zeleznik (.452, 23 RBIs), Ambro (.315, 17 RBIs), Noble (.407, 27 runs), Budzinski (.375, 8 doubles), Jackson Miller (.329, 15 RBIs), Billy Keller (.385 on-base), Shaw (.373 on-base) and Ryan Chema (.302) is unlikely to change.
Highland has reached this stage with patient, passive-aggressive baseball that devastates when opponents make mistakes.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“This has been the craziest baseball I’ve ever played, easily,” Savron said. “Every game has been the most important of my life, and we’ve came out on top every game.
“We’ve just been sticking to what we’ve been doing and not getting down (emotionally).”
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- Highland falls to Olentangy Liberty in state semifinal
- Highland's Sam Zeleznik has developed into a standout catcher
- Highland's dream lives on with regional semifinal win over Mentor
- Commentary: Talented Highland team peaking at the right time
- District win over Medina brings redemption for Highland
- Highland win over Archbishop Hoban shows dividends still paying off from 2016 regional trip
- Tallmadge routs Highland to cop Suburban League crown
- Highland beats Medina to advance to districts
- Budzinski leads Highland over Wadsworth
- Win over Kenmore-Garfield stretches Highland streak to six