HARD­ING

Dorchester Star - - Sports - Fol­low me on Twit­ter: @David_s­tar­dem.​

Hard­ing, known for his abil­ity to bat­tle out of al­most any count when on the mound, did so off of it as well. He got bet­ter, built his strength, and re­turned to the ros­ter.

This spring, he was of­fered an ath­letic schol­ar­ship at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri. He ac­cepted, but first he, and his Chipola team­mates, had un­fin­ished busi­ness to han­dle: win­ning the na­tional cham­pi­onship. That too, proved to be a tough road.

Af­ter an open­ing-round win in the NJCAA tour­na­ment on May 27, Chipola fell, 13-8, to San Jac­into.

Drop­ping into the loss bracket of the dou­ble-elim­i­na­tion event, Chipola bat­tled through three straight winor-go-home games to earn a spot in the cham­pi­onship — again, fac­ing Chipola.

The In­di­ans won that matchup on June 2, 7-1, to force a sec­ond, win­ner-takeall con­test. Chipola won that as well, Hard­ing — just as he did in May, 2013, when C-SD routed Al­le­gany, 15-0, for the state high school ti­tle — cel­e­brat­ing from his spot on the mound.

“It was pretty sur­real com­ing into the game,” Hard­ing said by text in an in­ter­view Wed­nes­day. “I knew at some point I was go­ing [to] have to come in. Hon­estly it was one of those things I re­played in my head a mil­lion times when I was at home last year dur­ing the pe­riod I was ter­ri­bly ill.

“The first in­ning I was per­fectly fine as far as get­ting outs,” Hard­ing texted. “But the crown started to be­come one of the best things I’ve been a part of. I was hon­estly so wound up that my arm started to speed up. I re­mem­ber get­ting bases loaded and that’s when I said, ‘All right, look, I can’t get on top of my break­ing ball [be­cause] my arm is mov­ing so fast, so I’m go­ing to chal­lenge these next guys with ev­ery­thing I have.’

“The hit­ters knew a fast­ball was com­ing, the crowd knew it, and let alone me,” Hard­ing added. “But the big­gest thing that got me through was throw­ing my fast­ball with con­vic­tion and in­tent that I was not go­ing to let [any­one] beat me. [On the last bat­ter] I got the count full and this guy is just bat­tling. But that very last pitch, I let this pitch go with ev­ery­thing I had. And then he ended up pop­ping it up.

“Ev­ery­thing came full cir­cle when that hap­pened. I body slammed the catcher and re­mem­bered the jour­ney it took to get back here,” Hard­ing said. “That mo­ment is one that I’ll never for­get.”

More good news fol­lowed Wed­nes­day, when Hard­ing was picked in the 17th round by Cincin­nati, as the 497th over­all pick, of the 2017 Ma­jor League Baseball am­a­teur draft. Hard­ing has 30 days to sign and is head­ing for short­sea­son Class A mi­nor league ball in Mon­tana, with the Billings Mus­tangs.

The Mus­tangs, an af­fil­i­ate of the Reds, be­gin their sum­mer cam­paign as part of the Pi­o­neer League on June 19. Hard­ing will head to Mis­souri for the fall se­mes­ter if pro ball doesn’t take him else­where.

“I’m go­ing to sign, and I have two years of col­lege baseball left,” Hard­ing said. “But go­ing to sign even though I have a full schol­ar­ship with Miz­zou.”

Hard­ing is the son of Jeff (Sr.) and Re­nee Hard­ing of Cam­bridge. He’s one of an im­pres­sive 10 Chipola play­ers cho­sen by ma­jor league teams in the am­a­teur draft as of press time Wed­nes­day.

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