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One Pitch at a Time: The Story of Garrett Burhenn’s rise to high school ace

Jared Rigdon, Editor-in-Chief

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Senior Garrett Burhenn has never had it easy in baseball. Growing up, Burhenn always played a year up in little league.

“I was always the smallest kid out there because I was playing up, so I was playing with like nine year olds when I was eight. That was always fun, always trying to compete with them even though I really didn’t know what competing was back then,” Garrett Burhenn said.

Skiles Test Little League is where it all started for Garrett Burhenn. There, Burhenn picked up a love for the game of baseball and started his pitching career as his coaches started guiding him through everything baseball had to offer.

“I started playing travel ball when I was about seven years old for Skiles Test. Every year I kept growing and playing with my teammates and it was just a lot of fun. I’ve had good coaches over all my years of playing and they’ve helped develop my love for the game of baseball,” Garrett Burhenn said. “ If you have really good coaches, they’ll help you develop a love for the game and how to play the right way. Growing up that’s what I had a lot and that’s helped me be pretty successful, especially now.”

The senior Burhenn tried other sports too growing up but always kept coming back to baseball. Baseball is where he’s always felt the most comfortable according to his mother Heather Burhenn.

“It didn’t come without it’s heartaches for him but he just stayed with it. He tried some other sports when he was young and they just didn’t pan out for him like baseball always has. He’s just really stayed with it, worked hard and continued to excel,” Heather Burhenn said.  

With all the struggles he’s had and all the adversity he faced, perhaps no game has left Garrett Burhenn more distraught than a game at the end of his junior year. For the first time in a while, Heather Burhenn watched her son cry over the support he’s always loved.

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Flashback to May 29, 2017. Cathedral and Lawrence North are playing in the sectional for a trip to meet Greenfield Central in the regional. Entering the bottom of the sixth inning, Garrett Burhenn’s statline read five innings pitched with zero runs allowed. After a couple hits and an error, Cathedral had drawn themselves back into the game before Burhenn, the Ohio State commit met Jared Poland, a Louisville commit. Poland would go on to win that battle, crushing a homerun that would put the sectional out of reach for LN.

“It was tough but you know baseball is baseball. Cathedral’s good hitter, their best hitter, I threw him the one pitch that he could hit and to good hitters you can’t really make mistakes but that’s what I did and he hit my mistake. It’s just about learning from the mistakes and the failure and bounce back and do better the next time or the next opportunity that you have,” Garrett Burhenn said.

Heather Burhenn has been along side Garrett every step of his baseball career. Although she watched her oldest son fall into pieces after dropping the sectional title, there was much to be learned from that outing.

[Another heartbreak] was the Cathedral game last season in the sectional and losing to them after he went through nearly a whole game winning. That makes him better, makes him stronger and he just kind of has to fight through that.” Heather Burhenn said.

Garrett Burhenn’s passion for the game has been fueled by his heavy emotions. Even from a young age, Burhenn has always taken everything seriously.

“I remember his coaches talking to him when he was younger and talking to us saying that Garrett is pretty tore up about this. He’s just kind of an emotion kid like that. He takes it very seriously and takes it to heart. I feel that he’s growing out of that a little bit but still like last year with Cathedral it’s still a heartbreaker,” Heather Burhenn said

As Garrett Burhenn prepared for his senior season, he would keep coming back to the Cathedral ballgame. The things he learned from that game fueled him to get his team into a situation where they would thrive in close ballgames and overcome any adversity they may see.

“It motivated me to just talk to the team about the feeling of failure and competing more and what it really takes to be a top tier team and compete in those tough situations. Whether it be county or sectionals, it takes a full team to win that next game or advance in the tournament,” Garrett Burhenn said. “In those tight ball games, those 1-0 games, teams are going to have to stay in it the whole time and when the other team gets the momentum that’s when things start to fall apart or get better, just depending on what side you’re on.”

With only four seniors returning from a 16 win team from last season, Burhenn knew there would be a young team in place for the Wildcats this season. His development as a pitcher and leader would be crucial to any success for Head Coach Richard Winzenread team. So far, the right hander has fulfilled that need for a team that sits 13-6 as of May 9.

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When Richard Winzenread first met Garrett Burhenn there wasn’t much there. Still, the lanky, skinny middle schooler caught the attention of the veteran coach.

“[My first impression was] that he was very thin, weak and had very terrible flexibility,” Winzenread said. “But, there was a lot of potential there as a baseball player. I knew him a little bit from middle school, being over there at the time, and thought he would work extremely well. I really wasn’t concerned about that and having Coach Happ here and some of the older kids taking him under their wing, I knew he’d be fine.”

Lawrence North was a veteran team when Burhenn came in as a freshman. The Wildcats had a rotation that included future first round draft pick Nolan Watson. There was time for Burhenn to sit back and watch and develop. For Burhenn, the veteran leadership that season was crucial for him.

“They just taught me, they were all bigger than me, so to eat a lot and go workout and work for a spot on the team. That’s what I did. I trained with Duncan and Nolan in the offseason when I was a sophomore and they were still there and Nolan was coming back from proball. They helped me with that,” Garrett Burhenn said.

The first step in Burhenn’s development perhaps came after a strong summer season before his sophomore season leading into the Fall of 2016. That Fall season was the first time Winzenread started to see something special in Burhenn.

“I really noticed his fall season his sophomore year. You could see the development happening. He threw the ball with ease and it impressed us. So, that year, which had to be tough on his parents, he pitched for us and played JV,” Winzenread said. “The whole year he got better, better and better where in the sectional we only had to pitch two games, and [Justin] Reed was hurt that day. So I went ahead and pitched him against Lawrence Central, as a sophomore in the sectional, and he one hit them. Threw six innings and only threw 67 pitches so we had a lot of confidence in him and we knew he’d be pretty good.”

Burhenn became a crucial member of the 2015-2016 team that would eventually win a sectional title to repeat as Sectional 10 Champions, doing the little things on the mound to earn the respect of upperclassmen on the team.

“I was a good pitcher. I threw strikes and didn’t have that many walks my sophomore season. I just threw varsity as a sophomore, I didn’t pitch for JV so whenever I pitched it was just for varsity. I threw strikes and just pounded the zone to get outs for the juniors and seniors on the team so they appreciated that from me,” Garrett Burhenn said.

As Burhenn progresses through high school, he credits Winzenread with a lot of his development in his pitching game. Winzenread, a former pro pitcher himself, has been around pitching for multiple decades now and knows what it takes to build a strong pitcher, mentally and physically.

“He has been extremely crucial especially in the junior to senior season, really emphasizing the need to compete and pound the strike zone and limit the walks. You can’t really defend walks and that’s true in the game of baseball. He’s really taught me to stay in and take it one pitch at a time,” Burhenn said.

Burhenn’s command for the game has given him an edge up on the mound according to Winzenread. Winzenread lets him call his own game, like many pitchers for LN do, leaving Burhenn the ability to use his complete arsenal of pitches on any batter.

“He keep his pitches down in the zone and throw them for strikes. He’s got a little more work to do on his fastball, but that hard curve slider and it’s starting to be that changeup. When you have to try and gear up for the fastball, it’s almost unhittable if he puts it where he wants to. You’ve got to be a pretty special hitter to hit it in high school and there’s just not that many.”

Winzenread knows how crucial Burhenn is for LN this season. Alone, Burhenn has taken the win in six of the team’s 13 total as of May 9. However, Burhenn’s presence has stretched far beyond the chalked lines of the diamond.

“He’s had a huge impact. Kids look up to him. Even middle school kids know who he is. He’s a well built young man. A great personality, a great work ethic and he does anything a coach asks. He does anything for the team and never puts himself before the team. His legacy will live on for a long time,” Winzenread said.

Lawrence North has produced a number of division one pitchers over the year. Winzenread knew Burhenn would join that list. However, there was never a guaranteed position beyond on college in Winzenread’s mind. A 6-0 record with 73 strikeouts and only four walks in 40 innings of work for Burhenn during his senior campaign as of May 9 has cleared any doubt in Winzenread’s head that there may be a future for Burhenn in pro ball.

“This year, it’s just been one great outing after another. He’s developed into even more than I thought he would. I thought he would be pretty good. I thought he would be a D1 pitcher but now he’s set himself up to be possible draft. Someone, who doesn’t get drafted as high as he wants and doesn’t sign, that they’ll be watching the next three years at Ohio State.”

Garrett Burhenn never thought he would be in this position when it came to baseball. Remember, baseball has never been easy on him. There wasn’t the idea that he would have near a 73% strike ratio his senior season, one similar to that of Nolan Watson’s. However, Burhenn now sits roughly two months from heading to Columbus, OH to join a college team in Ohio State that consistently finds themselves a top the Big Ten.

“Entering high school I really had little information about college and the recruiting process and what it takes. It kind of sped up sophomore year but I had no idea that it would come to this and that I would be in this position when it comes to baseball,” Burhenn said. “Ultimately now I want to be a part of a professional organization whenever that time comes. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make happen.”

Burhenn doesn’t like to get to ahead of himself. He never gets caught up in the hype of rankings or awards. When Burhenn pitches, his focus never leaves the pitch in front of him, never leaves the present and never looks back on what happened or what will happen.

“I think I’m pretty well known but when you step on the mound you can’t think about that or bad things might happen, karma or whatever. Whenever you step on the field you focus on the game and take it one pitch at time and don’t worry about what’s going on in the world,” Burhenn said.

There’s not much Burhenn can tell hitters they don’t already known. Any warnings may not help the hitter. The senior Ohio State signee doesn’t like making it easy on hitters. Burhenn takes the mound focused on the goal in hand, doing everything it takes to get the hitter in the box out.

“I would say they’re probably going to get one good pitch out of the ones that I throw them and if they hit it, good, but if I make a mistake you better hit that too because that’s all I’m giving you,” Burhenn said.

In a sport where it didn’t always came easy for him, never came without heartaches, it only seems fitting Burhenn would make it challenging for others. As he finishes off what has been a dominant senior season and high school career, Burhenn is now doing his best to make his presence on the mound the next obstacle, the next heartache for anyone who steps in the box to face him.

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One Pitch at a Time: The Story of Garrett Burhenn’s rise to high school ace