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COLLEGE BASEBALL: Louisville's Harrington, a former Central Hardin star, adjusts after move to college (5/30)

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By Chuck Jones

LOUISVILLE — Every baseball player goes through an adjustment period from the final year of high school to the first one in college, but for a pitcher, the challenge is even greater.

Case in point, Louis­ville freshman Drew Har­rington.

Harrington dominated high school hitters with an overpowering fastball and a nasty curveball as opponents hit a woeful .118 against him. He posted a 10-1 record with one save and a microscopic 0.26 ERA last season. Harrington struck out 146 in 80 innings to set the Central Hardin single-season record.

But things haven’t been as easy for Harrington at the college level. There were growing pains for the left-hander as he transitioned from one level to the next.

“It’s been a growing experience,” Harrington said Thursday. “The college game is completely different. The game is faster, the players are better.”

Harrington has had to learn how to pitch all over again in one sense. What worked on the high school level didn’t in college.

“In high school, I could throw a belt-high fastball to get hitters out,” Harrington said. “That doesn’t work here. When you leave something up, you’re getting hit and you’re getting hit hard. I’ve had to work more in and out and get strikes that way.”

As much as he had to change on the mound, Harrington said there was also a mental hurdle he had to clear. The Kentucky Gatorade Player of the Year went from getting the ball every fourth or fifth day to not knowing what his role might be.

“A bunch of it is the mindset you have,” Harrington said. “The game is 90 percent mental. You have to believe in your abilities and if you do that, it will do wonders for you.

“Everybody here was the best pitcher on their team in high school,” he added. “The amount of innings I’ve gotten has been great. I didn’t expect to get as many innings as I have. I got off to a shaky start and got hit hard a couple of times, but they kept flipping me the ball. They’ve had faith in me and I’ve had a little more success lately.”

The changes Harrington has made are paying off. In his last 10 outings, he has given up only 10 earned runs. During that stretch, Harrington tossed four shutout innings against Ohio State to earn a win and then worked two innings of relief in his next outing to get a victory over South Florida. He also earned his first save against UConn on April 26, throwing 2 2/3 shutout innings.

The Louisville coaching staff seems to believe Harrington has made the proper adjustments as he started the American Athletic Conference Tournament final against Houston. Harrington took the loss, allowing six hits, two walks and three earned runs while striking out six.

“It was so hot,” Harrington said of the game. “It was like 102 degrees. It felt good that they trusted me in that situation. I felt like I spotted up the best I have all year. They had four infield hits and I threw one away on a pick-off. We really hurt ourselves. I need to learn from it and pitch better the next time.”

For the season, Harrington is 3-2 with one save and a 5.00 ERA. He has made 20 appearances, including four starts. He has given up 61 hits and only seven walks while striking out 34 in 36 innings.

When he signed with Louisville, a major factor in his decision was the amount of success the Cardinals have had. That trend has continued this season as they are in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive season and the eighth time since 2002.

The Cardinals (45-15) meet Mid-American Conference champion Kent State (36-21) at 6 p.m. today at Jim Patterson Stadium. Also a part of the four-team site are Kentucky (35-23) and Kansas (34-24). Louisville is seeking its second straight College World Series berth and its third in eight years.

“I couldn’t have imagined going to a better place than right here,” Harrington said. “Our coaches have been wonderful and the players here are great. We’re all trying for the same thing and that’s to go to Omaha in back-to-back years.”

Chuck Jones can be reached at 270-505-1759 or cjones@thenewsenterprise.com.