Highland baseball coach Jay Grissom is enjoying the “ride” to Columbus, and he is not ready for it to come to an end.

The Hornets are in the state tournament for the first time in baseball after beating defending Division I state champion Jackson last week in a regional final in Canton at Thurman Munson Memorial Stadium.

Highland (19-9) is scheduled to play Powell Olentangy Liberty (28-4) in a Division I state semifinal at 10 a.m. Friday. The other side of the bracket pits Whitehouse Anthony Wayne (25-4) versus Mason (26-5) in a semifinal at 1 p.m. Friday.

The state final is at 4 p.m. Saturday.

“We had an interesting start to the season,” Grissom said. “We went down to Florida in the Tampa area and played some other northern schools. We came back to Ohio 1-4. We got off to a rough start. We couldn’t get the bats going. We came home and righted the ship a little bit and we ended up finishing in second place in [the Suburban League American Conference] to Tallmadge, obviously a Division II state qualifier.

“We moved through the tournament with a first-round win over Akron Kenmore-Garfield 6-2. We won our sectional championship game at Wadsworth 5-1. Then in our district games, we won a 6-2 ballgame over Hoban in the semifinal and in the championship we won 8-5 over Medina.

“We went to the Canton regional and played a really good Mentor team and beat them 3-1, and then came back the next night and beat Jackson 8-7 in eight innings. It has been quite a ride to get here.”

Grissom, a graduate of Norton (2000) and the University of Akron (2006), dubbed his players a “resilient group.”

“That mostly showed up in the regionals,” Grissom said. “Through sectionals and districts we were jumping out to leads in every game. We scored five runs in the first inning against Wadsworth. We scored four runs in the first inning against Hoban. We scored four runs against Medina in the first inning.

“Then we get to regionals and we gave up one run in the top of the first to Mentor. We answered right back in the bottom of the first. That was a 1-1 game into the sixth inning and then we pushed two across and won by a final of 3-1. That Jackson game was crazy where we are down 6-0 in the sixth inning. We score two runs, hold them, come in and score five runs and take a 7-6 lead in the top of the seventh. They come back and get one to make it 7-7, and then we come back in the eighth inning and found a way to push a run across and we were able to make it hold up and win 8-7.”

A look at Highland

Grissom said senior Bryce Budzinski will start on the mound Friday.

“Bryce has been our No. 1 all season long,” Grissom said. “He is currently 5-1 overall, and on the season he carries about a 1.90 ERA. He is the guy who has pitched big game after big game for us. This is his third year on the varsity level.”

Budzinski is also an impact hitter. Grissom said senior second baseman Billy Keller is the “most vocal leader” and senior catcher Sam Zeleznik is the “most consistent player.”

The Hornets’ other starters are senior first baseman Jonathan Ambro, senior shortstop Gavin Noble, senior third baseman Jackson Miller, senior left fielder Andrew Shaw, junior center fielder Tyler Savron, junior right fielder Ryan Chema.

Ambro and junior Brenden Meikle are also key pitchers for Highland.