INDEPENDENCE - For Independence, the prep football season opener bore little resemblance to its winless 2016 campaign.
Even in defeat, a clear message was sent that there are brighter days ahead for the Mustangs.
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CEDAR RAPIDS — On a night with incredibly few positives, Tom Hackimer was one. Again.
The Cedar Rapids Kernels relief pitcher was but a footnote in a dreadful 8-0 loss to Burlington at Veterans Memorial Stadium. When you throw to two batters in a blowout, it’s not very significant.
But Hackimer retired those two batters, one on a strikeout. In his last three appearances, spanning six innings, he hasn’t given up a hit or walk and has fanned seven.
Only one guy has reached against him, and that was on an error. The sidearming right-hander struggled in his first two outings of the Midwest League season, but he’s been a wall since.
“Been feeling really good lately,” Hackimer said. “It just feels like I’m using my fastball a lot and putting it where I want, and things are going pretty well.”
Hackimer was a fourth-round draft pick of the Minnesota Twins last June and joined the Kernels after signing. He posted five saves and a good earned run average of 2.39 in 21 appearances here.
You’d think that would have been enough to get him to high-A Fort Myers to begin this season, but that didn’t happen. To his credit, Hackimer said he has zero issues with that and is happy to be back in Cedar Rapids.
Keep pitching as he has, and he’ll get to Florida soon enough.
“What I’m focusing on is that when I’m ahead in the count, I’m making sure I’m punching guys out,” he said. “When I’m behind, don’t try and get too perfect. Just try and put the ball low middle (in the strike zone) and have guys get themselves out. I don’t want to walk guys, stuff like that.”
The Kernels dropped back to even again (9-9) with a performance Manager Tommy Watkins was less than pleased with. Burlington (8-9) touched starting pitcher Tyler Beardsley (2-1) for seven runs (six earned) in five-plus innings, and Bees pitcher Sam Pastrone and Travis Herrin combined on a four-hitter.
Pastrone (1-3) came in with an unsightly 11.70 ERA in three starts but needed just 50 pitches to get through five innings.
“Horrible,” Watkins said. “No energy from the get go. From start to finish, nothing. No kind of pride, no effort. Ugly game.”
He said he addressed his team postgame about being so lackluster.
“Like I just told them, we can deal with losing. But if you don’t have any effort, no fight, it’s hard to watch,” he said. “It’s not going to happen. We play a good game, we play a bad game, we just can’t put it together. Is it being young? I don’t know, but they’ve got to start figuring it out ... We can’t let them get away with (this).”
The teams play again Tuesday night at 6:35.
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