KIRKLAND – Tyler Burger had a difficult time finding the strike zone early in Hiawatha’s 12-5 win over Serena on a cold, windy Friday. The senior made it through two innings and allowed one run and, with a doubleheader the next day, coach Sean Donnelly took out his ace.
But five innings later, when Donnelly needed a pitcher to slam the door on Serena, he went back to Burger, who closed out the win.
“I was iffy after the second inning, but I got a little break with my arm, threw a couple of pitches out there and it felt great,” Burger said. “I felt better than I did when I first started.”
Donnelly has tried to rotate his deep pitching staff plenty during this compact season, finding the balance between keeping his pitchers fresh and keeping each in a rhythm.
During Friday’s blowout, where the Hawks (5-1, 5-0 Little Ten Conference) trailed for most of the game, that meant using four pitchers. After Burger pitched the first two innings, Mike Mercado came on to pitch two innings before sophomore Will Corn and senior Ed Canchola pitched an inning each.
The Hawks had a tough time producing much offensively early, and they were behind 5-1 in the fifth inning before Serena’s pitcher began to wear down and the Hawks finally heated up.
Corn, Burger, Donald Giebel and Jace Williams all drove in runs in the inning and Hiawatha took a 7-5 lead before tacking on five more runs in the sixth.
“We started off real, real slow, but we all have confidence in each other, and we picked each other back up,” Burger said. “The opposing pitcher started losing it. One hit, we got pumped. Another hit, we got better.”
For the first time during their undefeated start to the conference season, the Hawks came back from a deficit late in a game.
“This year, we haven’t had any of that type of adversity where we’ve had to battle back in a game that we know we should be competing in,” Donnelly said. “It was really good to see that. It was good to see the attitude turn around in a snap.”
On Friday, Hiawatha showed that it has the ability to turn around deficits. But the Hawks’ deep pitching staff, Corn said, is what can put them over the top in the conference race.
“If you only have one guy who can really pitch, then you’re only going to win half of your games that he pitches,” Corn said. “We have three or four guys who are always on, and we have a chance to win the conference this year.”