Richmond-Burton’s baseball players have a little different mindset on the days senior Mike Kaska is scheduled to pitch.
They’re more easygoing. More upbeat. More, as Rockets coach Mike Giese said, “comfortable.”
They definitely are less worked. Playing defense behind Kaska practically constitutes a day off, or, at least several innings off as Kaska and catcher Kory Klicker frequently provide all the necessary glovework.
Kaska has been dominant – with a 5-0 record, 51 strikeouts in 30 innings and an 0.70 ERA – while helping R-B to a 10-5 overall mark, 7-2 in the Big Northern Conference East Division. Three of his victories have been a no-hitter (Harvard), a one-hitter (Rockford Christian) and a two-hitter (Marengo).
The Rockets are chasing Burlington Central (12-5, 6-1 BNC East) in the division race, which they play Tuesday at Burlington and Thursday at R-B. Kaska gets the Tuesday start.
“We just know he’s been shutting people out,” Klicker said. “If we push three or four runs in, we’ll be set. Our defense can relax and just play and not get up-tight and stuff like that.”
Giese saw Kaska make a jump in his junior season as R-B’s No. 2 starter behind Ryne Blanton. Kaska was 4-3 with a 3.16 ERA and 61 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings. He walked only 14 batters. Kaska has issued 10 walks this season.
“He’s the most accurate thrower I’ve ever coached,” Giese said. “He’s always been that way, whether he’s in the infield or the outfield, he always throws the ball on the button. Pitching-wise, it helps him a lot. He has a nice frame, about 6-foot-2, has a nice down motion and it’s carried over to pitching this year.”
Kaska, a third-year varsity player in basketball and baseball, struck out 17 in the no-hitter against Harvard and whiffed 15 in Thursday’s win against Marengo.
“To say the least, it’s incredible [out there like that],” Kaska said. “I don’t know how to describe it. When you start off well, and you’re feeling it, it’s great. And I’ve been feeling it a lot.”
Marengo coach Josh Maas knew his team was in for a long day Thursday when Kaska got rolling.
“We rattled off three or four good wins in a row, then Kaska gave it to us pretty good,” Maas said. “But he’d done that to a lot of guys. He was hitting high 80s and his curveball was, whew, it was disgusting. If I hadn’t been the coach, it would have been a lot more fun to watch.”
Unlike a lot of high school pitchers, Kaska does not have a pitching coach. He plays in the summer with the Northern County Crush, a team comprised mainly of R-B and Johnsburg players. Klicker caught him with the Crush last summer.
“He makes it really easy for me back there,” Klicker said. “He’s under control and hits his spots back there. I knew he’d do well because he was throwing well last summer. But I wouldn’t have thought he’d be striking almost every guy out.”
The R-B defense has only had to account for 39 of the 90 outs while Kaska has pitched.
“Compared to last year, I’ve been working ahead of batters more,” Kaska said. “I’ve developed a lot more confidence in my changeup from last year. It’s a very good pitch to use later in a game. Hitters look for your fastball and I throw them a curve or offspeed and they’re way ahead.”
Klicker agrees with Marengo coach Mass about the curve.
“He brings great heat, and his curveball is a big bender,” Klicker said. “He can backdoor lefties and throw it away from righties. He likes to go to that when he shakes me off. That’s his best pitch.”
Kaska decided about a year ago he wanted to continue playing in college. He plans to attend NCAA Division III Wisconsin-Whitewater, where his sister Kaitlyn is a sophomore.
“I wanted to pitch as long as I can, so I thought I’d go to a smaller college, not too far away, and go from there,” Kaska said. “I’ve been up there a fair amount, I’ve been to some football games and got a feel for the campus.”
With the downward motion that Giese describes and Kaska’s control, the Warhawks coaches should like what they are getting.
“I don’t know that I saw this coming, as dominant as he’s been with the strikeouts,” Giese said. “I don’t think he’s trying to just strike people out. He just works ahead of hitter so well, then they’re at his mercy.”