When Orange (Calif.) Lutheran left-hander Chris Burica takes the mound, a pervasive calm settles over his teammates. Burica is the Lancers’ Mr. Reliable. They know exactly what they are going to get every time he takes the ball.
“I already feel like he’s going to win every time he steps on the field,” junior outfielder Garrett Mitchell said. “When Chris is on the mound, I pretty much know that we’re going to win that game or at least it’s going to be close every time.”
Burica goes out and attacks hitters, forcing them to get hits rather than relying on free passes. While he doesn’t have elite stuff, he pitches like he does.
“My comparison for Chris is like a Clayton Kershaw. He just goes out there and shoves and let’s the defense do what they’ve got to do.
“As a defensive player watching that, it gives me confidence to just go out there and have fun because I already know that he’s going to throw strikes. I'm not worried about is he going to walk a guy. I trust him 100 percent. That guy can go seven innings every time he goes out there because he really just shoves. That’s what he does.”
Burica’s stuff is in no way comparable to Kershaw’s 93-95 mph fastball and knee-buckling pair of breaking balls, but the mentality is the same. The 6'6'' lefty sits comfortably at 79-82 mph with his fastball with a four-pitch mix that includes a big looping curve and a developing slider.
“I would not say I’m overpowering with the fastball, so I rely more on command than anything else,” Burica said. “I try to spot up fastballs and stuff and hopefully get to a count where I can throw a slider or a curveball and get the guys fishing.”
What makes Burica standout is his competitiveness. With runners on the corners with one out in his most recent start, Burica rared back and fired a fastball at 84 and then another at 86 after he hadn't thrown a pitch over 82 the first two innings. Though he typically throws his fastball in the low 80s, when he gets into a big situation, he is able to rare back and add four or five extra miles per hour. Suddenly, his 81 mph fastball bumps up to 85 or 86 and batters that have been trying to time him up are way late with their swings.
“Mostly, it’s adrenaline. There's times where you know you want to get a fastball by somebody or get a late bat on a fastball, but for the most part, it's just the adrenaline.”
Orange Lutheran head coach Eric Borba disagrees. He thinks there’s more to it than just a little extra juice in a big moment.
“The mental game that he has and the baseball IQ that he has on the mound is unbelievable — way beyond his years,” Borba said. “Just knowing how much he has control over what he does out there both mentally and physically and being able to command the strike zone — make big pitches when he has to and step up his game when he has to. It’s just been unbelievable to see how mature he is on the mound this year.”
Burica has grown into his body during his high school career. Once a gangly 6'6'', his is now a solid collegiate prospect after the addition of more than 50 pounds. The results have followed. After going 2-1 with a 1.99 ERA in 31.2 innings last year, Burica has been one of the top pitchers in Southern California this season.
Last week, Burica tossed a five-hit shutout with eight strikeouts against Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei on Tuesday and came back on Friday to record the final out to take the series from the Monarchs. Burica is now 6-1 on the season with two saves. His only loss came in a 1-0 defeat against San Juan Capistrano’s JSerra — one of the top teams in the country.
In 57.1 innings, Burica has allowed 41 hits and has a 0.73 ERA. He is striking out nearly a batter per inning and has walked only seven batters. He has thrown three shutouts this season and has allowed more than one earned run only once this season — his very first start of the year against a very talented Huntington Beach (Calif.) team.
Next year, Burica will be playing halfway across the country. He signed with Creighton after first getting noticed at one of their summer camps.
We were also able to see Chris at camp this summer and were very impressed with his delivery, fastball command, and breaking ball," Blue Jays head coach Ed Servais said in a statement when the school announced their recruiting class. "We really like the way he works and think he's got a shot to play a big role for us in the future."
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