BY MIKE URSERY
Freshman Brayden Hudson was the shortest person on the field in Harrisburg’s district semifinal game against New Bloomfield on May 15, but he came up with big hits in key situations.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Hudson turned on a 3-1 pitch and sent it into the gap in left-centerfield, driving in junior Alex Weideman and breaking a 2-2 tie.
That hit led to a five-run fourth inning for the Bulldogs, and the momentum swing from that inning led to a 10-5 win.
“He’s a spark plug-type kid,” head coach Brian Simpson said. “He’s super athletic, and for just a freshman, he does a nice job in varsity baseball games. Height in baseball doesn’t matter a bit. He’s a strong kid. He’s seen a lot of pitches and he’s been in the lineup all year long. He came up big in those spots and really picked us up. He’s a key part to the top of that lineup.”
Hudson was penciled in the No. 2 spot in the lineup against New Bloomfiied.
Senior Brendan Gray led off the bottom of the first inning with a single, making it to second base on the throw.
Hudson followed and laced a line drive into left field that allowed Gray to score from second. Hudson’s hit opened the scoring and it was 1-0.
Harrisburg scored one more run in the bottom of the first. Senior Wil Distefano hit into a double play with the bases loaded. Hudson was able to score from third. The Bulldogs led 2-0 after one inning.
Senior Trey Freeman made the start on the mound for Harrisburg. He ran into some trouble in the top of the second inning.
With a runner at first base, New Bloomfield senior Tommy Bedsworth hit a triple to deep center. His hit cut the lead in half.
Senior Tyler Martin followed and hit a blooper that went just beyond second base and found the outfield. The score was tied 2-2.
Overall, Freeman pitched six-plus innings, allowing five runs on five hits. He had seven strikeouts and issued three walks.
“He put the ball where he wanted to, for the most part,” Simpson said about Freeman’s performance. “He got a little frustrated with himself in a couple of innings. He walked a guy and let a runner on. That frustrates any pitcher, but he did a good job of working around that. He threw like a senior today.”
The score remained in a 2-2 tie until that fourth inning. Weideman led off the inning with a walk. He was then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt, laid down by senior Garrett Gash.
Weideman moved to third on a single by Gray, and later scored on Hudson’s RBI-double.
The momentum continued to build in the fourth inning.
Freeman was issued an intentional walk to load the bases. Junior Cade Combs followed and hit a gournd ball up the middle into centerfield. Two runs initially scored on the hit.
The throw went home, and Combs advanced to second on the throw. The New Bloomfield catcher tried to throw him out, but the throw was offline and went into the outfield. Freeman was able to score, and Combs slid safely into third. The score was 6-2.
Distefano was the next hitter, and he hit a hard grounder into centerfield to drive in the fifth run of the inning. When the inning ended, the Bulldogs led 7-2.
“The top of the lineup rolled up in that spot, and we were able to string some hits together,” Simpson said. “We benefitted from them missing a couple of cutoff men, which allowed us to take a couple of extra bases at a time. We took some calculated risks, moving from second to third on a short throw coming in from the catcher. It worked out in our favor.”
Harrisburg put up three more runs in the fifth inning.
Weideman led off the inning and was hit by a pitch. He took his free pass to first base.
Gash laid down another sacrifice bunt to move Weideman over to second base.
Weideman later scored on an RBI-double by Gray. Gray scored on an RBI-single hit by Hudson. It was Hudson’s third RBI of the game.
Freeman sent a line drive into left field for an RBI-double. Hudson scored, and the score was 10-2.
The Wildcats refused to go away quietly. In the top of the seventh, Freeman went back on the mound to try for a complete game.
New Bloomfield sophomore Jacob Lane led off the inning with a four-pitch walk.
Sophomore Johnny Elliott followed with a single to put runners at first and second with no outs.
Senior Evan Roddy was next. He hit a ball into left field. Combs was unable to field the ball on the hop, and it went past, allowing a runner to score. The Wildcats trailed 10-3. They had runners at second and third with no outs.
Junior Nick Hammnn was next. He sent a hard line drive into centerfield to drive in two more runs. The Wildcats had cut the lead to 10-5.
Simpson walked out to the mound to make a pitching change. Freeman’s night was done, and Combs took over to stop the bleeding and try to close out the game.
Simpson said that Combs’ first warmup toss from the mound was a wild pitch that all they way to the backstop. His first pitch to a hitter went wild, and allowed a baserunner to move from second to third.
However, he struck out the next three hitters in order on 14 pitches to seal the win and put Harrisburg in the district championship game for the second straight year.
“Cade has a ton of experience in a ton of sports, in big spots,” Simpson said. “He’s had a great three weeks. He’s been our hottest hitter over the last three weeks. He’s seeing the ball really well over the plate. He pitched well last week at Jamestown, and closed out a game there. He’s coming into his own as a baseball player, which is fun to see from him.”
This game was the second meeting between the Bulldogs and Wildcats this season. The two teams played at New Bloomfield on April 10. Harrisburg won the game in nine innings, 15-14.
Harrisburg will meet Russellville in the district title game on May 17. This is also the second game between the two teams. They played at Harrisburg on April 8. The Indians won the game 7-6.
April 10 was the second day of the season when Harrisburg was able to play an official game. They opened the season on March 21. Spring break and several rounds of rain kept them off the diamond, as they went 17 days without playing before their games on April 10. They also played Monroe City that day, winning 11-1.
“We were definitely not the experienced team we are now,” Simpson said. “Russellville is a good team, and Lucas (Branson) is a good coach. He has his guys ready. It should be a fun game.”
The game is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at Harrisburg High School.
The winner advances to the state playoffs.