ST. JOSEPH — It’s probably no coincidence Hunter Hart’s favorite pitcher is Justin Verlander.
The St. Joseph-Ogden right-hander is paralyzing area hitters much like Verlander does for the Detroit Tigers.
“I like pretty much everything about him,” Hart said. “I always watch him pitch when I can. He’s one of the best pitchers in the game.”
Hart has turned himself into one of the area’s best pitchers. The junior has an area-best 58 strikeouts to go along with a 4-1 record and a 0.52 ERA in 262/3 innings.
And his last two starts, Hart has been unhittable. Literally.
He did not allow a hit in five innings to host Cissna Park during a 14-0 win in six innings Monday. Last Tuesday, Hart threw a no-hitter during a 1-0 win against Paxton-Buckley-Loda in St. Joseph.
“We’ve seen this potential in him,” SJ-O coach Josh Haley said. “He worked hard all winter, dedicating himself to the weightroom. We’ve known he’s had the potential to throw, but it’s been his command (that’s stood out). He’s not just throwing. He’s pitching.”
The same goes for three other starters Haley can turn to.
Louis Acklin (3-1, 1.61 ERA, 32 strikeouts in 212/3 innings), Brock Immke (1.26 ERA in 16 innings) and Tyler McCormick (3.50 ERA in 14 innings) give Haley a formidable four-man starting rotation.
“They each have their own identity,” Haley said. “Those four guys give you a chance to win every time they pitch.”
Haley is quick to credit the work pitching coach Mitch Pruemer has put in developing the Spartans’ arms. Pruemer pitched at Purdue, where he earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2005, after a successful prep career at Teutopolis that saw the Minnesota Twins draft him in the 46th round of the Major League Baseball draft.
“He’s been in their situation before,” Haley said. “When they’re in the game and in a tight spot, he relates well to that since he’s been there. He just does a tremendous job with the pitchers.”
Acklin — who started on the Spartans’ boys’ basketball team that placed fourth in Class 2A last month — hasn’t missed a beat adjusting to baseball while Immke and McCormick have stepped into more prominent roles this spring.
“We have one of the best staffs in the area,” Hart said. “When one of us is on the mound, I feel pretty confident.”