116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — The topic of their home-run prowess will be broached here in a minute.
But the first order of business is discussing the game-saving defensive play Kirkwood’s baseball team made in the ninth inning of its NJCAA Division II regional opener Friday afternoon. That’s catcher Trenton Burkhalter, specifically.
With the Eagles trying to hang on to a 9-8 lead, Southeastern put runners at first and second with one out. Leadoff hitter Cole Smith worked a 2-1 count against Kirkwood closer Bryce Schares.
As Schares delivered the next pitch, the Southeastern runners — including pinch runner Ryan St. Ledger at second — surprisingly took off on a double-steal attempt. Burkhalter received Schares’ pitch and threw a dart to second base to easily nab back runner Taichi Nakao.
Two pitches later, Schares froze Smith on a full-count fastball down the middle, and Kirkwood had its win.
“It was a surprise,” Burkhalter said. “But when they put in that pinch runner, I knew that there was going to be something that was up. Typically, fast guys like that, when they are getting off second, they are trying to do something. Then the guy that’s trailing usually isn’t paying too much attention. So as a catcher, it’s kind of a thing where you want to throw it back to second.”
Throw it back to second perfectly.
“It happened earlier in the year, and we executed it well just like this,” said Burkhalter, a freshman from Minnesota. “I told (second baseman) Alex Pendergast that if they steal, I’m throwing it to you. It’s almost always going to second base.”
“Because the guy at second base got an unbelievable jump, we had no play on it,” said Kirkwood Coach Todd Rima. “Trenton comes up and throws one of his best throws of the year in that moment. That was a big-time play.”
Top-seeded Kirkwood (39-15) moves on to play third-seeded DMACC (36-20) in a winner’s bracket game Saturday afternoon at 2. This double-elimination tournament is being played at Mount Mercy’s Robert W. Plaster Athletic Complex.
DMACC beat Northeast (Neb.) in the opening round Thursday and upset second-seeded NIACC in Friday’s first game. Kirkwood and NIACC had first-round byes.
“In this tournament, if you get in the loser’s bracket right away, with how good the teams are, it makes it tougher,” Rima said. “I feel like if you can get to the final two on the winner’s side, you’ve got a shot. All we’re worried about is we’re going to enjoy this one for a little bit, and then we have to get ready for a really good DMACC team tomorrow.”
Kirkwood seemed poised to put this one away early, scoring three runs each in the first and second innings and another in the third for a 7-2 lead. But Southeastern hung around, closing within 7-6 in the fifth on a three-run homer from Sam Monroe.
Solo homers in the seventh from Burkhalter and Pendergast in the eighth gave Kirkwood some breathing room, but Monroe hit another home run, this one a two-run job, in the ninth, setting up the dramatic finish.
Kirkwood also had homers from Joe Simpson and Parker Shupe, upping its season total to 99. It went into Friday two long balls behind Western Oklahoma State for the national lead in D-II.
“No panic today,” Rima said. “We talked about that all week. The tournament, that’s how it’s going to play out. To see our guys respond that way was pretty special.”
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