By: D.J. WATSON
NH Sports Writer
CADIZ – Head Coach Mike Valesko and his Huskies may be struggling against Mother Nature right now, but that is about the only obstacle that has been able to slow down Harrison’s club the past couple of weeks. The Huskies are winners of eight of their past nine, having picked up victories over a top-20 team in Div. II (Steubenville), and another top-20 squad in Div. III (Edison) along the way. It just so happens those two teams will be playing in the OVAC 4A Championship game this afternoon, a party the Huskies could have potentially crashed if the weather would have been just a bit more cooperative over the course of this impressive run.
Even though the weather has interrupted or altered the Huskies schedule over five times in the past two weeks, Valesko has one player who seems to have not let the ever-changing slate affect him. Junior Logan Tonkovich is having himself a year. Not only did he toss seven shutout innings from the mound in last Saturday’s 4-0 victory over a solid Oak Glen team, he went on to blast a two-run walk off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning this past Monday against the visiting Edison Wildcats. In reality, he technically walked off both of those games for the Huskies, as he executed a line drive double play to end matters in New Cumberland when the Golden Bears had loaded the bases and threatened a late game rally in the bottom of the seventh. He is leading the team with a .458 batting average, leading the team with 21 RBI’s, leading the team with 22 hits, leading the team with three home runs, and leading the team with an eye-popping .854 slugging percentage. Quite simply, Tonkovich is emerging as a game-breaker on a team full of high-level talent, and that is a good sign for the Huskies as the postseason slowly sneaks into the windshield of the 2018 campaign. “Our goal every year is to get better and make sure we are playing our best baseball come postseason time,” Valesko stated after the game.
What might be the most impressive feat of Tonkovich’s breakout run is that he is doing all of this after having an intrusive knee surgery roughly 5-6 months ago, working his way through rehab to join his teammates in time for the pre-season grind. The Oak Glen victory was his second of the year as the starting pitcher, a role that he has also excelled in with 13 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.050 through three appearances. Considering that Valesko and Pitching Coach Brandon Ludwig can trot out two D-1 commits in Andrew Clelland and J.R. Heavilin on any given night, having a sturdy arm in Tonkovich is only adding to an already formidable pitching staff.
Fans in attendance of this past Monday’s game at Mazeroski Field were treated to a doozy, and that is probably the understatement of the season so far. The Wildcats came to town with the upper hand, having handing the Huskies a 2-0 loss in a tri-doubleheader at Ridgewood near the beginning of the year. However, evidence that the Huskies were ready for the rematch was quickly found in a three run first inning. Singles out of Chance Hursey and Logan Elliott opened the bottom half of the first for the Huskies, and sophomore Andrew Clelland made it 1-0 when he drove a double into left. Tonkovich then sailed a double to center that scored Elliott pushing the tally to 2-0. J.R. Heavilin reached the bags on an infield error that plated Clelland, and before the first was over the Huskies had taken a 3-0 lead. The two teams exchanged runs in the second, with a Clelland single bringing Hursey around third and home in the home half. A Caden Arbaugh single to center scored Heavilin in the third, putting the Huskies in front 5-1. But good teams don’t just lay down, and the Wildcats would rally with three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth to ultimately push the game into extra innings. After the seventh went silent, Edison would go ahead 6-5 in the top of the eighth inning after an Anthony Sinicropi single scored Riley Watson. It was a perfect small-ball inning for the Wildcats, as they worked a leadoff Watson single into a run with a sacrifice bunt and some aggressive base running.
Trailing 6-5, the Huskies were in need of late game heroics. It just so happened there would be no shortage of players ready to answer the call.
Much like he did on the hardwood this past year, freshman Kobe Mitchell made a big play when his team needed him the most. Mitchell opened up the Harrison eighth with a double to left, and Hursey was able to get Mitchell over to third with a sacrifice ground ball on the very next at bat. Always steady Logan Elliott then tied the game with a line drive single to center, and just like that the Huskies were back in business with one on and one out. Clelland grounded into a fielder’s choice, setting the stage for the game’s closing act in Tonkovich. Green light swinging, the junior stepped in and airmailed the first pitch of the at bat over the left field fence, sending the Huskies dugout into a full blown frenzy.
“I’m happy to see we are playing much better now and making progress as the season goes along,” commented Valesko following the thrilling victory. Clelland worked six innings from the bump, ringing up nine batters before Logan Elliott came into to earn the win on the mound. “I’m very happy to get a nice win against a really good Edison team. We have a ton of respect for that program and what Coach Collopy does every year. Our kids battled in a tournament like atmosphere, and that is a great thing at this point in the regular season. Drew (Clelland) did a nice job pitching and got stronger in the late innings before giving way to Logan (Elliott). The last inning was great to see because we battled out some great at bats before Tonk ended it with the exciting game winner,” Valesko concluded.