After an award-winning season, Drew Burris wanted to ‘do it again.’ But the Hobart junior is doing it better.

Hobart junior Drew Burris didn’t rest on his laurels.

Far from it.

After the left-hander was named the Northwest Crossroads Conference pitcher of the year last season, he knew he had more to accomplish.

“It felt great, especially as a sophomore,” Burris said. “There are a lot of great teams in the conference. I knew I had a good season, but that made me go, ‘Wow, I really did have a great season.’ But last year is last year, and I have to do it again.”

Burris took those words to heart. He sharpened his mental approach. He was diligent in packing on the right kinds of calories and hitting the weight room. He said he bulked up to 210 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, up from 165 last season.

“It’s crazy,” he said.

One of the byproducts of Burris’ increased strength has been a corresponding increase in velocity. He said his fastball tops out at 85 mph after he threw in the mid-to-high 70s last season, when he had a 1.05 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 49 2/3 innings.

But Burris’ overall savvy has remained his calling card as he carried a 0.97 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 21 2/3 innings into the Brickies’ game against Boone Grove on Thursday.

“Drew’s a very underrated pitcher, especially speaking of college level,” Hobart coach Trent Howard said. “It’s tough on college coaches because they see metrics. They see, ‘Hey, this guy throws 87 miles an hour,’ so that naturally perks their interest. But that only means so much.

“His pitch ability is outstanding. He’s the kind of guy who’s going to go out there and hit spots. He’s going to move the ball inside and out. He’s going to mix in a steady dose of quality off-speed. He’s going to be a very tough pitcher to barrel up over the course of a game.”

Howard, also a lefty, would know. He starred at Clark before graduating in 2008, had an all-conference career at Central Michigan and was picked in the seventh round of the 2011 MLB draft by the Baltimore Orioles, reaching Double-A in his three seasons in their organization.

“He’s a guy, once colleges realize about him, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, yeah, absolutely,’” Howard said of Burris. “Maybe he’s not this high prospect because he doesn’t throw 90 miles an hour or whatever. But my goodness, can that kid pitch. He’s a hardworking kid, good kid, good grades.

“He’s a little bit of a quiet leader. He’s one of those kids, when he’s on the mound, he’s a leader because of how he carries himself and generally how good he is. Guys can look to him and see, ‘Hey, we have a solid foundation. We have him going today, we’re going to have a chance against anybody.’ He’s a good kid, and his teammates love him.”

Hobart junior catcher Ben Sullivan noted Burris’ unorthodox sidearm type of delivery.

“I’ve caught Drew since his freshman year,” Sullivan said. “I play summer ball with him all the time. We always go to camps together. We jokingly tell schools that we’re a package deal. But I love catching him. It’s quick innings. I don’t have to be behind there that long.

“He’s just something that the hitters have never seen with where he throws from. He’s not a guy who throws 90 — not saying he can’t. But he throws from here, and he just leaves some hitters who can’t see it. It’s that deception. They can’t pick it up.”

Burris has picked up where he left off, having gained valuable experience as a freshman. He spent most of that season on the varsity level.

“I closed a lot of games,” Burris said. “That really helped me get over not fear but nervousness, being thrown into big situations.

“I remember we were playing Andrean at PNW, and our starter had to get pulled early because he was sick. Coach was like, ‘Burris, go get hot.’ I was like, ‘Wow, he’s really trusting me to come into the game and just shove against the 3A state champs. He must have a lot of confidence in me, and he must see something I’m not seeing.’ I went all the way to the ninth inning. I was like, ‘Oh, I probably can be the dude.’ But I was still a freshman, and I still had to work. Like our motto, ‘Work, work, work.’”

Burris said he wants to continue to work his way to a high-level college opportunity as he pitches for the Brickies (6-7, 3-4).

“Hopefully I’ll have four good years in a row and head to college with a good mindset,” he said. “The camps I went to, they’re definitely interested. Last summer, I went down to Ole Miss, and the coach was like, ‘I really like you. You just need to get bigger and throw harder. But I like how you put pitches where you want to. I like how you’re mentally strong.’

“So I just get on the mound and don’t think about much. I just go with it. I just try to do better than last time, just throw strikes and let the defense work because we have a good team. We just like to have fun and play our hardest for our school and the city. We’re definitely going to make a name for ourselves in the next few years, if we haven’t already made a name for ourselves.”

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