BURLINGTON – Richmond-Burton right-hander Mike Kaska’s starts normally are crisp and effective, which lead his teammates to a level of comfort behind him on the field.
But Kaska was not his usual dominant, and almost unhittable, self on Tuesday. Burlington Central grabbed that easiness R-B usually feels and strangled it, just as it has with the Big Northern Conference East Division lead.
Burlington’s Danny Gerke threw six strong innings and hit a two-run home run off Kaska as it defeated R-B, 7-3, in their BNC East baseball game. The victory gave Burlington (13-7 overall, 7-1 BNC East) a one-game lead over R-B in the division.
“It just wasn’t our day, for whatever reason,” R-B coach Mike Giese said. “We were uncomfortable in all aspects. Our defense was uncomfortable. Our pitching, [Kaska] was uncomfortable at times. We did some uncharacteristic things. Sometimes you put forth your best effort and it just doesn’t go right.”
Burlington scored twice as many earned runs off Kaska (six) as he had allowed in 30 previous innings. Kaska struck out eight, walked three and gave up seven hits as R-B dropped to 11-7, 7-3.
“I was falling behind batters and, when you do that, it forces you to throw more fastballs,” said Kaska, who is 5-1. “They jumped on it and put it in play and got baserunners and were moving it around. The first couple innings I felt good. I made some errors leaving pitches up.”
The wind, gusting from left field to right field, played a part in the first when Burlington’s Reed Hunnicutt’s fly ball to right was blown well over R-B’s Jake Kaufman for a triple. Burlington took a two-run lead, but R-B answered right back with four consecutive singles and scored three runs.
Kaska cruised to the fourth, but walked Cody Schuver before falling behind to Gerke, 2-0.
“I was looking fastball away, I knew he brought it a little bit, so I tried to take it to right,” Gerke said. “I thought I hit it pretty well, but once I got it up in the wind, there was no way that jet stream wasn’t going to take it out [of the park].”
Kaufman just turned and ran for the fence.
“It looked like a pop-up off the bat and the wind took it out,” Kaufman said. “It was a good 30 or 40 feet over.”
That gave Burlington a 4-3 lead and it added three more the next inning without a ball hit out of the infield. Two infield hits, a hit batsman and a pair of walks led to those three.
“We knew [Kaska] threw hard and threw strikes,” Burlington coach Kyle Nelson said. “One of the things we did well was we didn’t expand [our strike zone]. We didn’t expand the zone up or expand the zone out. We just made him work.”
The two teams, who seem to battle for the BNC East championship every season, will meet again at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at R-B.
“Mike didn’t have his best stuff, but it wasn’t just that,” Giese said. “We had too many infield hits that we need to get [defensively]. We have to have a short memory and try to get them on Thursday.”