BURBANK — Kyle Hart has taken advantage of a valuable learning experience this summer.
But the education the Burroughs High graduate has received didn’t come in a classroom or from a book. Instead, Hart has gotten tutelage on the mound as a pitcher for the Corvallis Knights of the West Coast League, a wood-bat collegiate summer league.
“It’s been a really great experience for me,” said Hart, a 2009 Burroughs graduate who is in his first season with the Knights. “They have really taken good care of me. I have learned a ton about just mixing up my pitches and pounding the strike zone. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve been here.”
After a successful sophomore season as the No. 2 starter at the University of Redlands in the spring, Hart got the opportunity to continue playing this summer for Corvallis.
Hart, 20, started out the season in the bullpen, but his prowess on the bump prompted his promotion to the starting rotation, an impressive feat on a roster that boasts 22 pitchers. The success he has enjoyed has done a lot for Hart’s confidence.
“I’m learning what it takes to get good hitters out and learning to just trust my stuff,” Hart said. “The most trust you have comes from success, so when you’re pitching well it’s a lot easier to trust your stuff on the mound.”
Hart came up with a big performance as a starter Wednesday in an 11-0 win at Klamath Falls that clinched a fifth straight West Division championship for the Knights.
Hart took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, going seven shutout innings to improve to 4-1. He struck out a season-high 10, allowed one hit and one walk and threw 54 strikes in 79 pitches.
In 12 games this season, four as a starter, Hart has 38 strikeouts and a 3.26 earned-run average in 30 2/3 innings.
“It just all comes back to just getting ahead of batters, mixing up the speed of pitches and throwing for strikes,” Hart said. “When I do that, I’m able to be successful.”
Corvallis pitching coach Connor Lambert said he has seen a definite improvement in Hart since the player first joined the club, and his move up to a starter shows the progress.
“Kyle has been all ears all summer and he is really dedicated to improving as a pitcher,” Lambert said. “He really came in throwing strikes right away and that’s what I try to preach to the guys. I have seen him actually improve in his ability to locate all three of his pitches. It has been really great to see that improvement. He takes pride in getting better.”
Wednesday’s win qualified Corvallis for the WCL Championship Series. The best-of-three series begins Aug. 16 at the East Division team’s stadium. After a travel day, it resumes on Aug. 18 at the West team’s ballpark. Heading into a weekend series against the Portland Ports, the Knights were 37-16, 35-16 in the WCL.
Hart has carried over the success he had at Redlands to his stint with the Knights.
With Hart’s help, Coach Scott Leverty’s Redlands squad posted an overall record of 30-12, which stands as only the second 30-win performance in the club’s 100-year history.
The Bulldogs also left their mark on the record books, capturing the program’s first Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in five years, as well as notching its first NCAA Championship Tournament victory since 1985.
For his efforts, Hart was named an American Baseball Coaches Assn. 2011 NCAA Division III All-West Region selection, as well as a first-team all-conference honoree. As the Bulldogs’ No. 2 starter, Hart went 9-3 with a 3.94 ERA in 88 1/3 innings of work. In addition, he held opposing batters to a .240 average and recorded 80 strikeouts.
“It’s just about trying to get better, every year, every summer,” Hart said. “I just love being able to play baseball year-round.”