Nobody had to tell the Whitefish Bay baseball team just how good Nathan Burns is, as the Blue Dukes have been facing the state Player of the Year candidate for three seasons now.
Burns upped his candidacy by throwing a three-hitter on the mound and driving in the only runs of the game with a two-out, two-run single in the sixth, as top-seeded West Bend West pulled out a 2-0 win over fourth-seeded Whitefish Bay in a WIAA sectional semifinal July 18 at Germantown High School.
'We knew coming in it was going to be a close game,' Whitefish Bay coach Jay Wojcinski said. 'Burns pretty much beat us by himself.'
It was evident Burns was on from the start, as the Oregon State commit struck out six of the first 10 batters he faced. Whitefish Bay senior right-hander Liam Kahn was equally sharp, as the two traded zeros for five innings.
With two on and two outs in the third, Blue Dukes third baseman Jake Fischer saved a pair of runs by making a leaping catch on a bullet hit by Spartan catcher Jack Thelen.
Whitefish Bay had just two runners reach second base against Burns.
Andrew James hit a two-out double in the fourth and moved to third on a wild pitch, but Burns struck out Fischer swinging to end the inning. Jake Rybakowicz led off the sixth with a single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Chris Siebert.
After Cade Garcia flew out to left, Carson Kimple hit a sharp line drive right at Spartan shortstop Evan Albrecht for the third out.
'It was right at the shortstop,' Wojcinski said. 'A couple of feet either way we have an opportunity to score a run.'
Spartans break through
Thelen legged out an infield single with one out in the bottom of the sixth. Kahn then hit Nate Fleischman with a pitch. The runners moved up to second and third on a ground out to first base by Matt Koerner, setting up Burns.
The junior lined a 2-1 pitch from Kahn into left to break the scoreless tie and put West Bend West up, 2-0.
Burns didn't allow for any drama in the top of the seventh, as he set the Blue Dukes down in order to seal the complete game. The right-hander allowed just three hits, didn't walk a batter and struck out eight. Of his 79 pitches, 58 were strikes.
'He's as good as it gets around here,' Wojcinski said. 'We've seen him now for three years. My personal opinion is that nobody is better than him around here. He showed today why he's a scholarship kid and the best pitcher around.'
Kahn steps up
Wojcinski initially hoped for one or two innings out of Kahn, who pitched five innings in Whitefish Bay's 9-3 regional final win over Shorewood on July 15.
'We were debating whether or not (to pitch him),' Wojcinski said. 'He warmed up and told us he was good to go. He pitched really well under the circumstances and on two days' rest. Liam pitched great.'
The Blue Dukes were one of three teams to beat West Best West (27-4) during the regular season. The Spartans had their 23-game winning streak snapped by Menomonee Falls in the sectional final.
Whitefish Bay finished its season at 21-12.
'It doesn't matter what sport it is, only one team gets to be happy at the end of the year,' Wojcinski said. 'It stinks that we lost, but our guys have nothing to be ashamed of. We gave them everything they could handle and probably a lot more than they expected out of us.
'We didn't make any mistakes to give away anything. They earned those two runs. You have to tip your hat to those guys, especially Burns.'