Category Archives: Portfolio Pieces

Life Update: Where Is Tyler Working?

I recently started a new gig as an assistant scoreboard editor at the Chicago Tribune. I’m basically editing all the agate (stats, box scores, etc.) in the paper. I thought I’d post a couple examples of the stuff I’m doing. Here are two college football preview boxes I did for the Big 12 and Wisconsin Badgers.

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Boys Baseball: Burlington Central Crunches Pretzels For 1st Sectional Title

The Rockets and Pretzels face the flag for the National Anthem.

Burlington Central claimed the Class 3A Sycamore sectional championship on Saturday – the program’s first sectional title – thanks in large part to its not-so-secret weapon, the electrifying base running of Ray Hunnicutt.

The senior center fielder’s lead-off walk and two subsequent stolen bases sparked the Rockets’ three-run rally in the sixth inning of their 4-2 victory over Freeport.

With the Rockets trailing 2-1, Hunnicutt led off the frame with a walk. He quickly stole second base, and then after Blake Alexander flew out to deep center field, the senior successfully took off for third with Michael Scott at the plate. Because of Hunnicutt’s well-timed jumps, neither steal attempt drew a throw from Pretzels catcher Jack Lehnherr.

“I knew I was going the whole time. I knew we had to score one,” Hunnicutt said. “I thought I might as well try, it’s our last game potentially, so might as well go for it. And it worked out.”

The steals put Hunnicutt in position to score the game-tying run one batter later when Riley Jensen hit a ground ball up the middle that was misplayed by Pretzels second baseman Tyler Olson.

Kevin Zasada then put the Rockets up 3-2 with an RBI single to left that drove in Scott. Reed Hunnicutt, Ray’s brother, provided the Rockets’ an insurance run with a sacrifice fly that drove in Jensen and put Burlington Central up 4-2.

Rockets coach Kyle Nelson said that Hunnicutt, who is now a perfect 31-for-31 in steal attempts, possesses more than just great speed.

“He’s a fast kid, but there’s a lot of fast kids who don’t necessarily steal bases they way he does,” Nelson said. “He’s getting good jumps on pitchers, he’s getting good reads. And he’s doing a great job on the base paths.”

The Rockets jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Tanner Scott drove in Zach Ranney with a double to left field in the first inning.

The Pretzels were able to capture the lead by taking advantage of Rockets misplays. In the second inning, an infield error allowed Evan Schrader to score and tie the game at 1-1.

Consecutive mistakes by Rockets pitcher Riley Jensen in the fourth inning allowed Adam Werntz to reach home. A balk advanced Werntz to third base, and then a wild pitch allowed the junior first baseman to score.

Other than that, Jensen was very effective in his seven innings on the mound for the Rockets. The senior picked up the victory after giving up one earned run and four hits while striking out seven and walking one.

Burlington Central was able to stop to the underdog run of Freeport (17-20), who was seeded No. 4 out of four teams in the regional it hosted.

The Pretzels pulled off three upsets to earn a chance at playing for a sectional title. Coach Roger Fegan hopes the Pretzels’ first appearance in a sectional championship game in 33 years was a sign of things to come, not an aberration.

“It was a lot of fun. I told our seniors, hopefully ten years from now, you’ll come back and we’ll be winning regionals and sectionals all the time, and it was something you helped develop and helped start,” Fegan said.

Being part of the first team in school history to win a sectional title nearly left Hunnicutt speechless.

“I don’t even know how to talk about it. Nobody’s ever done it, and it feels great,” Hunnicutt said. “All these guys have grown up together, to win this in our last year, it’s fantastic.”

Burlington Central (28-10) will face LaSalle-Peru at 7 p.m. Monday in the Augustana College super-sectional.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Elgin Courier and yourseason.com. It appears here.

The Pretzels walk off the field after the Rockets ended their underdog run.

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Girls Softball: Naperville North Knocks Off Plainfield East To Reach First Sectional Final In School History

Naperville North softball entered uncharted territory by winning Wednesday’s Class 4A East Aurora Sectional semifinal against Plainfield East.

Behind a strong outing from pitcher Kathleen Hahne and a two-run homer by Tara Degl’lnnocenti, the Huskies will make their first appearance in a sectional final after knocking off the Bengals 5-2 at Phillips Park in Aurora.

Naperville North, the No. 6 seed in the East Aurora sectional, will face No. 4 seed Plainfield Central at 11 a.m. Saturday in the sectional final.

“I don’t know what Saturday will be like, it’s going to be brand new for Huskies softball,” Naperville North coach Jerry Kedziora said.

“We’ve got a good pitcher right now, we’ve got a team that’s playing really good defense. And some timely hitting too. It’s pretty exciting — our chances might not set up ever as good as they are right now,” he added.

Hahne picked up the victory after giving up two runs and ten hits and striking out three batters over seven innings.

The senior showed some early-game nerves, giving up two runs on six hits during her first two innings in the circle. However, Hahne settled down from that point forward, surrendering no runs and just four singles the rest of the way.

“I always get really nervous for a game. It takes me a few batters to get into my own and work my pitches,” Hahne said.

Degl’lnnocenti gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning with a line-drive, two-run homer to left field.

An RBI single by Bengals shortstop Nina Maggio tied the game at 2-2 in the second inning, but the Huskies retook the lead in the third. Caitlyn Warren came home on an RBI groundout by Kailee Budicin, giving Naperville North a 3-2 advantage they wouldn’t relinquish.

The Huskies added two insurance runs in the fifth inning, going up 5-2 on an RBI triple by Warren and a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Budicin.

“We knew that we had to come out and hit. We knew that they were going to be gunning for us, and everyone did a great job,” Degl’lnnocenti said.  “It took a team effort, and we got it done.”

Hahne was assisted by a strong defensive performance from her teammates. The Huskies committed only one error and made a few sterling defensive plays, including a momentum-changing double play in the fourth inning.

With one out and a runner on first base, Degl’lnnocenti cleanly fielded a hard-hit ground ball off the bat of Maggio and threw to shortstop Alexis Solak for the force out. First baseman Rachel Martin barely kept her foot on the bag as she made a fantastic stretch to collect Solak’s throw and complete the double play.

After that play, Hahne gave up just one more hit and the Huskies outscored the Bengals 2-0.

“To be able to turn a 4-6-3 like that, and those girls making every play possible from the third inning on, it’s a tremendous confidence boost,” Kedziora said. “These girls should now know that they can go out and compete against anybody.”

Plainfield East (22-12) was led on offense by No. 9 hitter Jessica Rio, who went 3-for-3 with three singles. Rio attempted to score on a single by Maggio in the second inning, but was thrown out at home by Huskies left fielder Stephanie Tobin.

Naperville North (24-12) will attempt to earn its first sectional title plaque when they face Plainfield Central on Saturday. The Wildcats advanced to the finals by defeating Neuqua Valley 2-1 on Wednesday.

“We know that we’re going to have our hands filled with Plainfield Central,” Kedziora said. “If we just go head out and play our game, maybe we can get something.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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Girls Soccer: Benet’s Season Ends in PKs; St. Francis Earns 1st State Trip

Both teams line up for starting lineup introductions before Tuesday’s game.

Benet held its opponents scoreless the first 285 minutes of the playoffs. 15 more minutes and the Redwings would have clinched a spot in 2A state semifinals.

The Redwings outscored their opponents 24-0 in their first three games, and held a 1-0 lead over St. Francis more than halfway through Tuesday’s 2A supersectional game played at Benedictine University.

But with 15:02 left in the second half, Spartans forward Amanda Gaggioli broke through the Redwing defense, scoring a goal to tie the game at 1-1. The game went to penalty kicks after the score remained tied through the duration of regulation and four ten-minute overtime periods. There, St. Francis outscored Benet 4-2 to earn a berth in the state semifinals.

“We’re not the best penalty kick team in the history of mankind,” Benet coach Bob Gros said. “We’ve worked on it. I’ve tried everything under the sun. But there’s so much psychology involved. There’s a little bit of luck too.”

Sydney Fox’s successful penalty kick sent St. Francis (22-3) to its first ever appearance in the state semifinals. Taylor Bucaro, Kaitlin Bucaro and Gaggioli also made penalty kicks for the Spartans.

“It feels great, it really does. I feel like this isn’t really real right now, but it’s great,” said Gaggioli

The Redwings dominated possession in the first half and outshot the Spartans 10-4 over the first 40 minutes. With 8:54 left in the first half, Jessica Smetana scored after receiving a great pass from Amanda Kaiser. The senior’s shot went off the far post and into the back of the net, putting the Redwings up 1-0.

The momentum shifted in the second half. The Spartans started to play more aggressively and dominated possession of the ball. With just over 15 minutes left in the second half, St. Francis snapped Benet’s 285 minute playoff scoreless streak when Gaggioli scored from 10 yards out after receiving a feed from Kaitlin Bucaro.

“I just saw the pass coming in, and my teammate (Fox) just let it go through her legs. I was open and just put it in,” Gaggioli said.

Worn down by temperatures in the mid-80s, both teams had trouble generating anything in the four overtime periods. St. Francis outshot Benet 5-2 over the last 40 minutes, and the Redwings didn’t get off a shot attempt over the last two overtimes.

Despite being outshot, Gros felt the Redwings had the better chances in overtime.

“In terms of more consistent pressure, I think in the last 40 minutes we had a little bit of an advantage there,” Gros said. “We just couldn’t get it in. You just have one of those days, and it doesn’t pay off.”

Benet finishes the season 18-5-3. The Redwings came into Tuesday’s game unbeaten in their previous 17 games.

St. Francis will play St. Viator at 11 a.m. Friday in the first of two 2A semifinals at North Central College in Naperville. Glenwood will face U. High of Normal in the second semifinal.

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Naperville Sun and yourseason.com. It appears here.

St. Francis players celebrate with their friends and family after the game.

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Minor League Baseball: Cougars Get 21 Hits But Fall To Snappers In 12 Innings

The view from the press box at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark in Geneva, IL

The Kane County Cougars got a dramatic, game-tying home run from Orlando Calixte in the ninth inning, but the Beloit Snappers outlasted the Cougars, scoring six runs in the 12th inning to clinch a 15-9 victory Monday at Fifth Third Bank Ballpark.

The Snappers’ outburst in the final inning came off first baseman turned pitcher Dean Espy. The right-handed Espy (0-1) entered the game as a pinch runner in the ninth and played first base for two innings before taking the mound in the 12th. It was his first time pitching in the minor leagues.

“We needed to save some pitching for tomorrow,” Cougars manager Brian Buchanan said. “When they took the lead, we took some guys out early because we needed them for tomorrow. Then we ended up tying it up in the ninth.”

Matt Koch gave the Snappers a 10-9 lead in the 12th with an RBI double that drove in Jhon Goncalves. After an RBI single by Tyler Grimes and a sacrifice fly by Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano capped off the scoring with a three-run homer that bounced off the video board in left-center field.

The Snappers (30-21) blew three leads in the first nine innings, including the 9-7 advantage they held going into the ninth.

After Michael Antonio led off the bottom of the ninth for the Cougars with a double to left center field, Calixte launched a game-tying, two-run homer to tie the game at 9-9. It was the 20-year-old shortstop’s third home run in the last five games.

“He’s getting good pitches to hit, and he’s hitting them,” Buchanan said. “We’re working with him, he needs to stay under control a little bit, and he’s been doing that lately.”

The Cougars (27-24) had a great chance to end the game later in the ninth after an error by Sano, the Snappers’ third baseman, allowed Jorge Bonifacio to bat with the bases loaded and two outs. But the 18-year-old right fielder struck out, sending the game into extra innings.

The Cougars offense took advantage of perfect hitting conditions — temperatures in the 90s and winds blowing out — by racking up 21 hits. All nine starters picked up a hit and seven had two or more. Catcher Kenny Swab had three hits, while Antonio and Calixte each had four.

“Hitting is contagious. You see some of the other guys up there swinging the bat really well and you’re itching for your opportunity to get up there,” Swab said. “The ball was just jumping off the bat today.”

Losing two of the first three games in this series, Kane County has fallen three games behind second-place Beloit. The Cougars will try to split the four-game series tomorrow at 11 a.m with right-hander Kellen Moen (2-2) on the mound.

I wrote this story for the Aurora Beacon. It appears here.

PROSPECT WATCH:

Twins 3B Miguel Sano: 1-7, HR, 3 RBI; Crushed a three-run homer in the 12th inning off a position player posing as a pitcher. Made what could have been a devastating error in the 9th inning (19th error of season). Booted a seemingly routine grounder with two outs, extended the game for Jorge Bonifacio to bat with the bases loaded. Great swing, physically (6’3″, 240 lbs) stands out among peers.

Royals RF Jorge Bonifacio: 2-7, 2 singles, run, 4 Ks; Struck out with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Left seven men on base over his seven ABs. Got first hit of series in third inning (was 0-for-9 going into at-bat). Batting .312, second on team.

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Boys Track Preview: Neuqua Valley’s Derrick And Bender Among Local Contenders At State Meet

Runners get ready for the 400 relay at last week’s Naperville North sectional.

When Neuqua Valley seniors Mark Derrick and Jacob Bender step onto the blue track at the boys track and field state finals in Charleston this weekend, they will be looking to improve on their top-six finishes at last year’s state meet.

Both have a good shot.

Derrick – who finished sixth in the 3,200 last year – comes into this year’s meet with the third best 3A qualifying time (9:12.37). And Bender – last year’s runner-up in the 400 – enters with the second highest qualifying time (48.94), just .04 seconds behind Stepfan Thelemaque of Plainfield East.

The North Carolina-bound Derrick could place in two individual events.  He finished first in the 1,600 at the Naperville North sectional with the 11th best 3A qualifying time (4:18.30).

“Running both, it’s always tiring, but it kind of depends on the day. I ran a double at DGS and felt great after both of them,” Derrick said last week. “After the mile (at last Thursday’s sectional), it was like ‘Oh my God, this second race is going to be rough,’ but I was able to pull through.”

Derrick and the Nebraska-bound Bender are among the 20 individuals and 11 relays from local schools that will be competing at this weekend’s 118th annual boys track and field state finals.

Neuqua Valley will have three other individuals competing in Charleston: Senior Taylor Soltys in the 3,200, senior Andrew Peterson in the pole vault and junior Carlos Varela-Hernandez in the discus.

Varela-Hernandez – who qualified for state in the discus last year but didn’t place – will be a contender to place this weekend after having the 10th best 3A qualifying throw (164-1).

The Wildcats also qualified three relays for state: The 400 team of Bender, Joseph Younis, James Sampson and Eric Metoyer, the 800 team of Younis, Nick Rafacz, Dennis Thurow and Metoyer, and the 3,200 team of Andy Martinez, Kevin Skrip, Xander Jacobson and Rolan Dewgard.

Waubonsie Valley thrower Riley Kittridge has a good chance to place in both the shot put and discus. The junior placed first in both events at the Naperville North sectional with the fifth best 3A qualifying throw in the shot put (56-6) and eighth best in the discus (164-5).

“My goals down there are maybe not to win, but at least get personal records and do my best,” Kittridge said.

Warriors senior Jamaal Bearden also qualified in both throwing events.

Waubonsie senior Kyle Schafer won the 300 hurdles at sectionals and is a contender to do the same at state. His sectional run of 38.20 was the third best 3A qualifying time, just .08 seconds behind Derrick Willies of Rock Island.

Schafer also qualified for state as part of the Warriors’ 400 and 1,600 relay teams. He will be joined in the 400 by Austin Ameri, Tony Durns and Demitrius Gray and in the 1,600 by Ameri, Gray and John Burke.

The Warriors’ 1,600 relay qualified for state with a time of 3:19.07, the third best mark in 3A.

Waubonsie triple jumper James Travis will also be competing at state after placing first at sectionals with a jump of 44-1.

Naperville Central will be led in Charleston by its three state-qualifying relay squads: The 800 team of Brandon Lau, Tyler Haines, Kevin Kulling and Sam Bransby, the 1,600 team of Haines, Bransby, Kulling and Brad Kouchoukos and the 3,200 team of Kouchoukos, Forrest Thayer, Ethan Brodeur and Christian Schafer.

The 800 and 1,600 relays qualified for state despite entering sectionals with seed times above the state standard.

“We weren’t seeded at getting any qualifying state times and we weren’t in good lanes, but we didn’t let that discourage us,” Haines said.

The Redhawks also had three individuals qualify for state – Mike Juretschke and Kevin Rzepczynski in the pole vault and David Goodalis in the discus.

Naperville North had three individuals qualify for state – senior James Kerns in the 100 and 200, senior Nick Lyon in the pole vault and senior Kareem Midani in the long jump.

Midani earned second place at sectionals by jumping 22-7.5, more than a foot farther than his previous personal best.

“I wasn’t expecting to jump that far. I was expecting to get close to qualifying, but jumping that far, I honestly had no idea,” said Midani, who was only jumping 19 feet indoors earlier this spring. “I didn’t just make it to state, I passed that. It was awesome.”

Metea Valley had four individuals and one relay qualify out of the St. Charles North sectional. Twin brothers Joe and Matt Stewart both qualified in the 3,200. Joe won the race with a time of 9:15.27, the sixth best 3A qualifying mark, while Matt came in third (9:28.16).

The Stewart twins will be joined in Charleston by junior Colin Yorke (1,600), senior Ben Hulett (300 hurdles) and 1,600 relay team of Tre’sean Mackey, Alan Williams, Aaron Laskey, and William King.

Benet junior Anton Vershay qualified for the 2A state meet by finishing second at last Friday’s Lisle sectional. The Redwings’ 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams also qualified for state.

I wrote this story for the Naperville Sun. It appears here.

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Boys Track Feature: Oumaru Abdulahi Makes His Mark At Mooseheart

Mooseheart’s Oumaru Abdulahi set a high jump record at the Mooseheart Relays on May 5, but you would never have guessed it by looking at the junior in the moments after the competition was over.

Abdulahi walked to the edge of the Mooseheart end zone where a cheering section had gathered. Visibly dejected, the junior sat down, put his back to the ground and covered his face with a shirt — and stayed that way for several minutes.

Abdulahi had won the event with a meet-record jump of 6 feet, 8 inches – a mark good enough to earn him the 1A state title last May – but he missed three attempts at clearing 6-10.

The 5-foot-8 high jumper has set lofty goals, on the track and beyond.

“This season I expected to hit that seven-foot mark. So I’m definitely disappointed, especially getting 6-8, that’s something I did last year,” Abdulahi said after the Mooseheart Relays. “But I know that I’m going to work hard to get my goals.”

Abdulahi’s journey to a state championship stretches from the west coast of Africa to eastern Iowa to Mooseheart, where he came at age 7 to start the second grade.

Abdulahi was born in Sierra Leone and lived in Liberia until he was 4. After his mother died, his family fled the war-torn country and moved to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, only to find their neighborhood riddled with violence and gangs.

His father, Gassimu, was searching for a way to protect his children when his girlfriend at the time discovered Mooseheart. Abdulahi was the third of his family to go there, following his brother Karidu and sister Manseray.

He is not sure whether he would even be attending high school, let alone excelling in track meets, if he had not been sent to Mooseheart 10 years ago.

“In my old neighborhood, I wouldn’t be able to think that I could graduate. I probably would have been involved with gangs and stuff like that,” Abdulahi said.

“I’m glad that I got the opportunity and I’m learning from this and taking full advantage of it.”

Mooseheart coach Curt Schlinkmann remembers the meet four or five years ago when he realized Abdulahi had special talent.

Schlinkmann was talking to his long-distance runners when someone told him Abdulahi was clearing six feet in the high jump.

“I was like, ‘No way,’ because he was only in middle school,” Schlinkmann said.

The Ramblers head coach dropped what he was doing and rushed over to the high jump mats to watch Abdulahi.

“From then on, he’s just gradually gotten better and better and a lot more confident in what he can do,” said Schlinkmann.

Abdulahi was successful at the high school level from the start. He finished third in the 1A state high jump finals as a freshman and then won the event as a sophomore.

He had to recover from off-season surgery before he could begin defending his state championship as a junior this spring.

A tailback on the Ramblers football team, Abdulahi suffered four dislocations of his left shoulder last fall. He decided to sit out basketball season and had shoulder surgery on Dec. 8.

His doctors said he would need at least three or four months of physical therapy but Abdulahi was back after two months and did not miss a single track competition. He set a new personal record with a jump of 6-10 at an indoor meet at Batavia earlier this spring.

“For me to bounce back like that and be able to compete at every meet without any problems with my shoulder, I think I’m really blessed for that,” Abdulahi said. “That just shows that I’m meant for something.”

Standing just 5-foot-8, Abdulahi succeeds in a sport most often dominated by athletes at least four or five inches taller.

“I’ve never seen anybody that size that high,” said Schlinkmann. “I never thought I’d see that or have an athlete who would be able to do that. It’s amazing.”

Abdulahi is often greeted with quizzical looks from tall high jumpers who wonder what he’s doing among the trees.

“It makes me want to prove that I can compete with them and even do better than them,” said Abdulahi. “I love their faces when they’re like, ‘Oh, he can jump, wow!’ ”

Rather than falling back on his background as an excuse, Abdulahi says he draws inspiration from it.

“I never let my family issues, my background bring me down,” said Abdulahi. “I just carry that with me, basically a chip on my shoulder, that I have to prove something.”

He hopes his track success will help other Mooseheart students realize they can accomplish great things, no matter what life has dealt them.

“No matter who you are, no matter where you come from, you can still be a good person, you can still do something in life. Don’t let that bring you down,” Abdulahi said.

Abdulahi hopes to attend college on an athletic scholarship and study theater. He is part of the newly founded Mooseheart drama program and is interested in playwriting and acting.

“If I end up doing acting, I want to be in comedies. That’s the kind of person I am,” said Abdulahi, who also writes poetry in his spare time.

Abdulahi was the first Ramblers track athlete to win a state title since 1958, but the impact he’s had on Mooseheart does not just come from the jumps he’s cleared, the touchdowns he’s scored or the baskets he’s made.

He is involved with the Navy Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps at Mooseheart and is the leader of the junior platoon. He has also taken on a leadership role on the track team. Schlinkmann describes him as a natural leader.

During the Mooseheart Relays, Abdulahi took breaks from his warm-ups to offer advice and words of encouragement to fellow Mooseheart high jumper Sam Strickland.

When he leaves Mooseheart after next year, Abdulahi hopes he is remembered as more than just a great athlete.

“I just don’t want to leave with people knowing me as the highest jumper,” said Abdulahi.

“I want to leave with people knowing that I want others to succeed. I want to impact the Mooseheart society as much as possible and have younger kids know what they’re supposed to do.”

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Aurora Beacon and yourseason.com. It appears here.

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