NEW CASTLE —
And Neshannock High baseball standout Ernie Burkes used that quickness to his advantage.
Burkes put his speed to good use at the plate and in the field to capture Lawrence County’s Most Valuable Player award. He batted .525 and stole a county-best 16 bases for the Lancers.
“Ernie’s speed is second to none; he creates havoc for opponents. He could be on second base before you knew it,” Neshannock coach Mike Kirkwood said. “He did bunt for hits and he’s probably one of the best bunters I’ve coached; Ernie is just so fast.
“He gets the bunt down well and his hand-eye coordination is so awesome. Opposing defenses played in to take away the bunt. But he practiced it a lot and worked at it and it showed; he still had success with the bunts.”
A senior shortstop, Burkes was 31 for 59 at the plate with 17 RBIs and 24 runs scored. He had six doubles and two triples.
Burkes also was named the WPIAL Baseball Coaches Association’s Class AA Player of the Year.
“I feel like I had a solid year,” Burkes said. “There were a couple things that I could have done better at, but it was a pretty solid year overall.”
Neshannock rolled to a 13-1 mark in WPIAL Section 5-AA play and 18-1 overall in the regular season. The Lancers earned the top seed in the district playoffs and a bye in the first round, but they dropped a 3-2 verdict to Seton-La Salle in the quarterfinals to finish 18-2.
“We knew going into the Double-A playoffs that no game would be a cakewalk,” Burkes said. “We went in prepared and I feel like our coaches prepared us very well for the game.
“It’s disappointing the season ended there. But that’s baseball. Our season was phenomenal as a whole. We had ups and downs like any team, but we stuck through it like family.”
Last year, Burkes batted .410 (25 for 61), raising his mark 115 points this season.
“It was all mentality for me,” Burkes said. “I had all the credentials; quickness and power. I didn’t care about the average. I knew we were winning games and that’s what mattered most, just winning.
“I really improved with maturity.”
Said Kirkwood, “The biggest thing is his discipline at the plate. He did a nice job of swinging at the pitches he swung at and delivering. I think he did what we expected him to do, by getting on base and creating havoc; being selective at the plate. He came through with big hits to get us the lead many times.”
Burkes moved from third base to shortstop last year after John Sansone graduated and headed to Florida State University.
“I just feel like I’m the type of kid that you can put me on the field and I’ll do my best for the team,” Burkes said.
“I thought he did a great job at shortstop,” Kirkwood said. “He has great hand-eye coordination; he’s just amazing.
“He can throw off balance. He’s able to make slow-roller plays look nonchalant when they really aren’t. He covers a ton of ground and he has great range at short.”
Burkes will attend Mount Union (Ohio) and play football. He said baseball isn’t totally out of the equation collegiately.
“I have to see how my studies go. I’ll worry about that when I get there,” he said. “I visited the campus and I loved it there. The (football) coaches were great, too.”
Burkes plans to major in biology at Mount Union.
Kirkwood now must find a replacement for Burkes, who bats right and was the team’s leadoff hitter.
“As Ernie goes, we go; especially on the bases,” Kirkwood said. “That’s a big void. We have a young team. Not having Ernie is going to be a big loss for us.”
NEW CASTLE —
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