Rhett Baxter’s offseason included a lot of long toss and a mastery of his go-to pitches.
His fastball has more bite. His curveball consistently drops over the plate for strikes.
He’s working a changeup into his repertoire and early on this season has been mostly unhittable.
On Friday afternoon, the Harrison senior tossed five scoreless innings, scattering three hits in a 5-2 victory over West Lafayette at Bob Friend Field, improving his record to 3-0.
“My curveball this year has been tremendous. It is breaking perfectly,” said Baxter, who has not allowed a run in 12 2/3 innings.
Baxter’s story of constant improvement mirrors that of the Harrison Raiders.
What once seemed like a steep mountain to climb suddenly appears to be a few small hurdles for the program to achieve the goal it has been working towards for the last two years.
“Winning is great, but mostly we are looking forward to the sectional,” Baxter said. “None of us have won a sectional in baseball. We’re looking to get that.”
Harrison has not won a sectional title since 2006, the longest drought in Tippecanoe County other than Faith Christian, which has only competed in IHSAA tournament play for three years.
Just two seasons removed from a three-win season, ending that streak seems like a possibility with each win.
Harrison is 7-1 and has allowed just 11 runs in eight games.
The roster has had mostly the same makeup in all three seasons under coach Pat Lowrey, who took over after a successful stint at Delphi and trotted out a varsity roster of freshmen and sophomores in 2013.
Fast forward to today and sophomore Max Hanas is the lone underclassman on a varsity roster of 15, which includes nine seniors.
“Coming into this year, we had really high expectations, as high as they’ve ever been,” second baseman Jake Fernung said. “The past two years, we haven’t really been where we want to be. Last year was a step in the right direction and we just kept building.
“This year we came in with confidence sky high.”
Three of those Harrison seniors — Fernung, Jeep Morehouse and Matt McConnell — had two hits apiece against the Red Devils Friday. Senior Anthony Allen and juniors Matthew Roop and Carter Bridge each batted in a run.
Still, there’s things to clean up.
West Lafayette had three straight singles in the sixth inning on Friday, quickly turning a 5-0 blowout into a competitive 5-2 battle after RBIs from Kyle Turner and Colin Merriott.
Two years ago, Harrison may have lost the game in a similar situation. Against the Red Devils, the defense buckled down and got out of a jam and finished the night with a 1-2-3 seventh.
Lowrey said the team went through growing pains the last two years so they don’t have to this year. So far, the Raiders have been solid in the clutch, defeating games 1-0 over Central Catholic and 2-1 over Chesterton, though they did drop a 5-4 heartbreaker to Guerin Catholic for the lone loss.
“You look at the past three years and these kids bought in from day one,” Lowrey said. “You just see them getting better every day. It was important for us to get off to a hot start this year to add to our confidence.
“I think we have a hungry group of kids. We have nine seniors. They want to go out on a high note.”