Last season, the Waterloo High School baseball team relied heavily on the powerful harm of starting pitcher Jericho Berndt. Injuries threw the Pirates a curve ball, and Berndt has been sidelined with a bad back during the early goings of the 2010 season.
“Jericho has only pitched six innings this year,” Waterloo head coach Steve Leistico said. “We’d like to slowly work him in. He’s been doing some running. He’s been doing some limited throwing tonight. Hopefully, we get him back and things will start going for us a little bit.”
The six innings Berndt threw were against Capitol Conference opponent Poynette, and the right-hander fanned 14 Pumas and earned the win.
“In the Poynette game, I felt great,” Berndt said. “I knew my fastball was working very well and my curve ball was on.”
Berndt last pitched April 13 against Lodi. He experienced pain during the start, prompting Leistico to shut down the pitcher’s activity.
In the meantime, Leistico, a 25-year veteran coach, has turned to his tandem of junior pitchers, Kyle Farnsworth and Brian Krieg to fill in for the injured ace. Farnsworth, a lefty took the hill for Waterloo last night, and delivered a much needed win over conference foe Columbus, 9-6.
“We had a big win at Columbus. We had previously lost our last two conference games in a row, and just not playing too well,” Leistico said. “Kyle really gave us a win. He’s got to work, but he’s just a goofy enough left-hander that if he throws strikes, he can be very affective.”
Farnsworth finished with five strikeouts and four walks in 6.3 innings. He gave up six runs, but only three were earned. Krieg closed out the game pitching a perfect two-thirds of an inning.
“Brian has had some good outings too. They’re both taking an added role,” Leistico explained. “As a coach, you’d like to think this will all pay dividends down the road. The guys are getting in some meaningful games and as the season wears on, we’ll need three or four pitchers.”
As the coach deals with the pitching situation, his offense is slowly coming around. Leistico said the team’s bats struggled before breaking out 13 hits against Columbus.
One constant, however, is Travis Ellis. The coach raved about his middle infielder noting his .665 batting average. Against Columbus, Ellis went 3x4 with a home run, a double and two RBIs.
“I worked a lot – going to camps, working in summer ball and a lot of open gyms – just so I feel comfortable going up to the plate,” Ellis said of his offseason regimen. “He threw the curve ball a lot and I knew it was coming and that’s what I hit the home run off of.”
Catcher Ryan Thompson is batting over .500, Leistico said, noting his arrival to the varsity squad allowed him to make some changes defensively. The biggest change was moving catcher Trever Deppe to shortstop.
“Trevor Deppe has never played infield before. Travis Ellis we moved from shortstop to second base. Kyle Farnsworth has never played varsity first base,” Leistico said. “So we’re kind of young and it’s taken us a little while to fill it out.”
The coach likes the progress he is seeing with his squad.
“The screws may be turning a little slowly with this team, but I think it’s starting to turn,” he said. “I was pleased with what I saw and it’s probably (happening at) a good time.”
As for Berndt, the pitcher has his sights set high for season accomplishments and his return to the diamond.
“My personal goal is to get all-conference and player of the year,” he said, adding his main goal to simply win. “I want to come back very strong and, hopefully, I can soon.”
As a pitcher, coming back may depend on the situation.
“I feel really good right now,” he added. “If we have a game Friday, I’m going to try and play that one and see how it goes from there.”
The Pirates are scheduled to play a doubleheader against nearby conference rival Marshall, Friday. There is rain in the forecast, but Berndt is hopeful the game will be played and he will be involved. It’s no surprise he is anxious to play the Cardinals considering last season, when he threw two one-hitters against the rival team.
“I always love playing Marshall,” Berndt said. “Marshall has always been a big game for me, so I hope I’m healthy by then.”
In addition to Marshall, Leistico is looking to be successful against the entire Capitol South. The coach thinks his team belongs at the top of the standings.
“I think we can be really competitive in the south. I’m pretty confident with our three pitchers,” he said. “I feel really good about our outlook … We just got to take care of business.”
The Pirates are currently 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the Capitol-South, leading the conference.