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JUNIOR CATCHER KYLE BUIKEMA GIVES PANTHERS TOUGH DEFENSE

Friday, May 31, 2013 • POSTED BY:  Hillary Smith - Times Columnist

GRIFFITH | Last season, after the Class 3A baseball regional games, Griffith catcher Kyle Buikema made a thank-you call.

"He called me one night just to thank me for letting him call our games," Panthers coach Brian Jennings said. "He said, 'Coach, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to call pitches.' That's the kind of kid he is."

Buikema started as Griffith's catcher on Day 1 of his freshman year.

A natural behind the plate, Buikema quickly took to the pitchers, making the job of the coaching staff an easy one to pick the intelligent, baseball-smart youngster as a starter.

By his sophomore year, the staff gave him another responsibility, one that prompted him to pick up the phone: call the game.

"Between summer ball and catching more frequently the last few years, I've been able to call my own games, and it's awesome that the coaching staff has enough trust in me and my confidence for me to be able to do that," Buikema said. "That's really the biggest part."

A tough defensive catcher, Buikema pays attention to opposing batters, knowing who is most likely to steal second, and how to use his pitchers to work a count.

There are no secrets between Griffith and Andrean, teams which will meet at noon Saturday in the Plymouth Regional semifinals. In his three years as the Panthers' backstop, this will be the ninth time that Buikema has played against Andrean, including the third time in the postseason.

"He's a calming influence for us defensively," Jennings said, "and we can throw breaking balls at any point in any game, even if someone is on third base, and he's going to do a great job blocking it."

Jennings sees Buikema playing for a mid-major Division I or high Division II baseball team after the catcher's 2014 graduation.

Buikema sees himself playing somewhere that academics -- more specifically a degree in engineering -- is No. 1.

"If I had to choose between playing baseball at a school with not as high academics, I'd have to choose the high academics, I think of my studies much higher than that," Buikema said. "If I get to play baseball, then that's awesome."

Buikema will participate in the Crossroads Tournament this summer, an important one for his college aspirations.

To grab more attention, Jennings said he'd like to see Buikema's power numbers increase a little.

"Offensively, his swing needs to get a little bit better to catch at the next level," Jennings said. "I personally think he's a Division I or Division II catcher. He receives well, he's got an athletic body, and more so than anything else I think colleges like the fact that he's athletic."