CARBONDALE — When Brad Harrison came to SIU after an outstanding career at O’Fallon High School, he came packaged as a two-way player.
Following a freshman year in which he struggled as a pitcher and a hitter, Harrison came into his own last year as a pitcher and also hit a little better, albeit in limited duty. That led him to make a decision that he believes is helping him become the kind of Friday starter every college team needs.
Focusing strictly on pitching this year, Harrison again flashed the stuff and command of an ace, checking Northern Illinois on five hits and a run Friday in eight innings of the Salukis’ 3-1 non-conference win at Itchy Jones Stadium.
It was the second straight eight-inning outing for Harrison (2-1), who walked two and fanned eight as he peppered the strike zone with 69 of 100 pitches. Until a seventh inning pass to Jake Dunham, Harrison worked 19 straight innings without a walk.
“As much as I want to say it doesn’t have much of a correlation, I think it was huge,” Harrison said of his decision to be a full-time pitcher. “It was a hard decision to make, but the coaches were on board. Once I made the decision, it seemed like my body was fresher to throw.
“I was able to focus on all the little details that I wasn’t able to before. That’s made a huge difference. Feeling good, feeling fresh and being able to go every single time out has made a big difference.”
The 6-foot-4, 210-pound Harrison fits the profile of a draftable lefthander. He can repeat his delivery and throw any pitch for a quality strike. He fields his position well and isn’t afraid to pitch to contact.
On a 49-degree day with just enough wind to make most fans miserable, Harrison also displayed the willingness to work quickly. He took as few as 10 seconds between pitches, keeping his teammates engaged, and they responded with a clean game in the field.
“No one on defense wants to stand there as the game drags along,” Harrison said. “Coach (Ken) Henderson preaches all the time about setting the pace. Being able to attack the strike zone allows them to make all the plays.”
The biggest play came in the top of the eighth as the Huskies (2-10) tried to mount a game-changing rally. With two on and one out, they had their No. 3 hitter, Tommy Szczasny, at the plate. Szczasny rapped what looked like a double play ball to short, but a low throw from second baseman Nikola Vasic enabled Szczasny to reach.
The throw also rolled far enough away from first baseman J.T. Weber for Nick Drobushevich to try and score from second. But Weber got to the ball quickly and zinged a strike home, where Colin Butkiewicz’s tag just nipped Drobushevich’s slide for the inning-ending out.
“Not traditional,” Henderson laughed. “But we can play defense.”
A better example of a web gem occurred in the ninth as speedy center fielder Will LaRue raced to the warning track to run down Dylan Lonteen’s blast for the second out. Closer Trey McDaniel whiffed Jack Anderson with a nasty breaking ball in the dirt to polish off his third save and send the teams home in a spiffy 2 hours, 1 minute.
Offensively, SIU (7-4) pulled off the rare feat of scoring all three runs on sacrifice flies. No. 9 hitter Brad Hudson chased Butkiewicz home with the game’s first run in the third, while Ian Walters picked up RBIs in the sixth and eighth with fairly shallow fly balls that scored LaRue and Vasic, respectively.
Vasic went 3 for 4 with two triples, while Butkiewicz went 2 for 3 with a double. Losing pitcher Erik Hedmark (0-2) pitched well enough to win most games, yielding only five hits and two runs, one earned, in seven innings. Hedmark walked one and struck out four.
“Their guy was good,” Henderson said. “This was like a Friday game in the (Missouri) Valley (Conference), where you’re going to have to scratch and claw for everything you get. I thought we barreled some balls up against their guy but didn’t get rewarded for it.”
The Salukis try to win the series tonight at 6 p.m. in a game pushed back four hours due to a rainy forecast during the afternoon. SIU will send Dylan Givens (2-0, 1.33) to the mound against Michael Lasiewicz (1-2, 7.04).