Central has yet to make the playoffs in baseball, but a junior infielder has helped the Chargers get close to checking that item off the school’s wish list.
Last year, Blake Burns paid his dues on the JV squad and was called up to the varsity team late in the year.
And while the Chargers were eliminated from playoff contention with about three games remaining last year, Central is still in the hunt for a spot as the regular season winds down this week.
In that disappointing season last year, Burns never really got any playing time, but he took the challenge of head coach Matt Holly to heart.
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“I made the most of the opportunities Coach gave me,” Burns said. “He said I’d get a chance to play and I’ve been working real hard at it. I’ve gotten faster and stronger. I spent a lot of the off-season in the batting cage and the weight room.”
It didn’t hurt that Burns hit a growth spurt. He was 5-9 at the end of his freshman year but is now 6-3.
But just putting in the work doesn’t guarantee of success. Burns said he struggled in the off-season practices where he wanted to solidify himself as the starting shortstop and longed for the third spot in the batting order.
Instead, he’s had to work his way back into the shortstop position when needed; otherwise he’ll be at second.
And, Burns said, he’s had to get used to the lead-off spot in the batting order.
“I’ve worked doubly-hard to make every play,” he said, “and I wasn’t comfortable at first being the lead-off hitter. I had never hit lead-off and I didn’t have the mindset to be patient and draw more walks and just get on base. I was more likely to get an early fast ball and try to be aggressive.”
Now, Burns said it’s just second nature and it’s fun to open the game with a double or get on base any way he can.
“I understand what it is to put pressure on the pitcher,” Burns said of his lead-off strategy.
At the plate, Burns is averaging over .400. Defensively, Burns is counted on for the Chargers when the game is tight.
Although he’s been at second base more often, he feels comfortable moving over to short upon Coach Holly’s request. He said he takes “tons” of extra grounders at both short and second over the weekends to bolster his ability to be perfect in the field.
Not only is Burns looking to make all the routine plays as they come, but he’s aware of what is at hand for Central.
The Chargers lost to Byron Nelson, 3-2, on Saturday and it puts them a half-game back of Guyer, Timber Creek and Fossil Ridge.
This week, the Chargers have a series with Timber Creek which Burns said he feels they’ll need to sweep in order to claim the last of the four playoff spots for Central.
That would be the first-ever playoff berth for Chargers baseball.
“We want to be the first ones to break through,” Burns said. “We’ve never been to the playoffs and we’re trying to be the first. We’ve got to make it happen this week.”
Burns credits the mentality of the senior class this year for getting this close to the playoffs, and to Coach Holly, who has brought a winning frame of mind.
“This year, the seniors have stepped up, leadership-wise,” he said. “It really helped me at the start of the season by telling me to keep my head up and they were right.”
Burns said he hopes that leadership style and training will benefit him next year and he will be able to pass along that guidance to younger players.
“Next year, it will rub off. The seniors have taught me how to learn the position and for the guys behind me,” he said.
Until then, Burns hopes teaching others how to play in the postseason is yet another trait to pass along.