There are some seriously scary numbers involved when breaking down the senior season of O’Fallon High’s Brad Harrison.
Perhaps the scariest is the fact that he allowed only 12 runs — total — in 13 starts and 16 appearances.
Five of those 12 runs came in his final start of the season, a sectional semifinal win over Belleville West. That means that in 12 other starts, the Southern Illinois University Carbondale recruit allowed seven runs, including an invincible stretch that saw him finish off five straight shutouts.
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“To do what he did against the opponents he did it against, that’s not something we’ve seen come through our program,” said O’Fallon coach Jason Portz, whose team finished 33-6 with Harrison figuring prominently in 12 of those.
Though there were several other talented players in the area this season headed to the Division I ranks like Harrison, the voting for Belleville News-Democrat Large-School (Class 3A-4A) Player of the Year wasn’t close.
Among his list of other accolades includes being a Gatorade National Player of the Year Finalist, Louisville Slugger TPX and Perfect Game USA All American and a first team all-state pick by the Illinois Baseball Coaches Association and PrepBaseballReport.com.
“I get the competitive side, it’s just in my blood,” said Harrison, the son of Richard and Deb Harrison. “I always wanted to be the best person on the field. There’s some self-motivation, but both my parents are very motivational about getting me to work harder, to make myself better as a person. That’s really important off the field, too.”
Harrison fully believed he could get anyone out on any team he faced. Most of the time, he did during a 12-0 season that saw him compile a 0.47 earned-run average while striking out a St. Louis area-leading 124 strikeouts in 89 2/3 innings.
“It gets kind of tough,” Harrison said. “When you face good competition, you’ve got to know that your best is better than their best. You have to trust that instinct and go out there and play your own game.”
Harrison recalled the Belleville West playoff start. A pitcher known for showing no emotion and holding his composure was suddenly trying to hold onto his team’s season and playoff hopes against the surging Maroons.
“That was the first time I gave up three runs in the first inning and it was kind of wake-up call for me,” Harrison said. “It was bouncing back through that and staying under control, then we came back with a two-run homer (by Hayden Schaefer), so I knew my team was behind me.
“That was the first time we had faced anything like that.”
O’Fallon came back to win 6-5 in nine innings and while Harrison didn’t get a decision, he made sure the Panthers had a chance to win.
When he originally committed to the Salukis as a sophomore, it appeared he was going as a hitter and an outfielder. The four-year starter holds O’Fallon’s career hits record and turned in a .402 average this spring with 12 doubles, one triple, six home runs and 35 RBIs.
“Originally I was recruited as a hitter,” Harrison said. “Right now the priority is hitting the way they’ve made it sound, but they’re definitely interested in having me do both. It’s just a matter of putting the time in to do both - and I want to do both.
“Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved hitting and pitching and now both have presented themselves. I want to be successful at both and want to push myself to be the best on the mound and in the batter’s box.”
Portz thinks there’s no reason why Harrison can’t do both at SIU.
“I don’t think there’s any doors that are going to close for him at SIU,” Portz said. “He’s got the bat speed and the mental makeup to play both positions. I think the highest part of his ceiling is on the mound. He’s going to continue to grow and get stronger.
“He’s still pretty lean and he’s got a lot of physical maturity left to reach. Once hie velocity goes up, he’ll be even better.”
Harrison and longtime O’Fallon pitching coach Nick Seibert were always on the same page, to the point where Harrison could predict what pitches Seibert would call in any given situation.
Harrison credited some time early in his career with Southwestern Illinois College coach Neil Fiala and later Seibert for putting him on the right path.
Through the years he added a curve, slider and change-up to go along with his fastball. He could put any of the four pitches where he wanted and his slider in the dirt was as unhittable an out-pitch as area hitters have seen in some time.
“I was taught to really emphasize the form and good mechanics,” he said when asked about his repeatable pitching motion that seems so smooth it could be machine-like. “There’s not a whole lot of stress in my arm, it’s not a violent motion. A lot of that just comes from proper mechanics.”
Harrison learned a little more about his competitive fires in the summer before his senior year when playing with the St. Louis Pirates against top-flight competition around the country.
He said that may have played a factor in his five-game shutout streak.
“Every time you went out to pitch you had to bring your best game,” he said. “You had to bring your best pitches and hit the best spots if you wanted to be successful. That carried over into this spring, where every single outing had to be me best outing.
“Every time I went out I wanted to do better than I did before.”
Harrison used to play up at least a year on his youth-league teams, many times playing with older brother Jacob Harrison.
Though Portz was aware of Harrison’s many physical gifts, it was watching Harrison’s mind work on the field that impressed him the most.
“He understood the situations of the game better than any player that I’ve ever had in my program,” Portz said. “That goes for on the mound, that goes offensively and defensively, how he would position our outfielders with two outs and two strkes ... he knew that stuff ahead of time.”
There is a definitely feel of maturity when dealing with Harrison. He measures his words carefully and rarely lets his guard down unless he’s with his teammates.
“I would say the most special part was just the guys on the team,” he said. “We had a lot of team dinners and things and this group was closer than any group that we’ve had in the past. It made the year we had and the run we had a lot more fun.”
Portz compared Harrison to a throwback left-hander from Edwardsville’s success in the 1980s, former Notre Dame and minor-league pitcher Tom Price. Price was a mind-boggling 32-1 in high school and held himself to extremely high standards in academics as well as athletics.
“Talking to (Edwardsville) coach (Tim) Funkhouser and Coach (Tom Pile and people that knew Tom Price when he was pitching for Edwardsville, there’s a lot of similarities,” Portz said. “Brad fit in just as well with his baseball teammates as he did with his fellow honors physics students or his basketball teammates.
“He’s got an ability to adjust to his surroundings better than any player that I’ve had come through the program.”
Coaches of the Year
O’Fallon coach Jason Portz and Freeburg coach Drew Gericke shared BND Large-School Baseball Coach of the Year honors in voting by their peers.
Portz guided O’Fallon to the Southwestern Conference title and a 33-6 record along with a spot in the Class 4A sectional championship game before losing to Plainfield South. Under Gericke, Freeburg (26-10) reached the Class 3A Sauget Super-Sectional before losing to eventual state runner-up Springfield.