Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — After finishing the regular season at 10-14 overall, Huntington found its glass slipper once postseason play began.
The Huntsmen, who were given a No. 4 after finishing sixth out of eight teams in their own conference, beat No. 5 Fairfield by a 5-0 score in a Division IV sectional final back on May 14 — advancing into a district semifinal, where they’d take on top-seeded Eastern Meigs.
And it’s at that juncture where they started to pen their Cinderella story.
A thrilling 6-5 win over Eastern Meigs allowed Huntington to advance into a district final, giving the team a chance to win the school’s first-ever district title in any boys sport. They did just that with a convincing 8-3 win over No. 2 Whiteoak on May 22.
Simply put, the Huntsmen (13-14) weren’t supposed to beat Eastern Meigs and they weren’t supposed to beat Whiteoak.
But that’s exactly what happened.
Now, Huntington looks to continue telling its Cinderella story against Toronto in a Division IV regional semifinal.
The Huntsmen aren’t supposed to beat the Red Knights, either.
But they’ve heard that before.
Toronto, who won its district championship with a 5-1 victory over Strasburg-Franklin, is a polar opposite when it comes to baseball history. The Red Knights, at 24-5 this season, have a rich diamond tradition that includes 25 consecutive sectional crowns and four straight district titles.
When Thursday’s first pitch is thrown, the Red Knights will be the only team with experience at this level and the only team that knows what to expect in terms of an atmosphere.
But Toronto will also be the only team playing under pressure — the Red Knight are heavily favored. That’s exactly what makes Huntington so dangerous.
“There are no weak teams,” Huntington coach Ed Yates told Prep Baseball Report. “When you get to this level, the weaker teams have vanished. We know that we are up against giants, both physically and traditionally, but we also believe in ourselves and plan to play as hard as we can.”
In Toronto’s district championship win, the Red Knights were led by junior AJ Clegg on the hill and senior Nate Karaffa at the plate. Clegg earned the win in 3 ⅔ innings of work, allowing one earned run on one hit while striking out seven. Karaffa was 2-for-2 with a home run and two RBIs.
Karaffa, an Ohio State commit, was the winning pitcher in the team’s 4-0 district semifinal win over Berlin Hiland. In that contest, he threw all seven innings while surrendering just three hits and striking out 12. He was also 2-for-3 at the dish with a double, a triple and two RBIs.
The Huntsmen are likely to see either Clegg, Karaffa or junior Tristan Thomas on the hill and they’ll also have to limit many of their teammates’ production, including the likes of Nick Sninchak, Lucas Gulczynski, and Nick Chetock, among others.
Helping in that effort will be Huntington’s Elijah McCloskey, Weston Roop, Devon Carroll, Seth Beeler, Nate Snyder, Gavin Free, and Tanner Ashcraft, among others.
In their two district tournament wins, the Huntsmen were led by McCloskey, Free and Roop. McCloskey was 3-for-6 with four RBIs and a game-winning run, alongside 3 ⅔ innings pitched in the victory over Eastern Meigs, while Roop and Free also contributed at the plate and on the hill.
Free tossed 3 ⅓ innings of relief in each of the two wins while Roop started the ballgame against Whiteoak.
Going against a stacked lineup, Huntington will have its hands full.
But remember, David has beaten Goliath before and the Huntsmen have been in this position a number of times already. Their schedule has prepared them for a lengthy tournament run like the one they’re on now.
When asked what he likes best about his team right now, Yates’ answer was short, simple and embodied exactly why the Huntsmen are still alive.
“They never give up, they believe in themselves, and they play hard all the time,” Yates said. “They have turned the season around by believing in themselves.”
Thursday’s first pitch is slated for 5 p.m. at Lancaster’s Beavers Field with the winner facing either Newark Catholic or Racine Southern.