Category Archives: Prep Sports Reporting

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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Boys Baseball: Burlington Central Launches Into Sectional Title Game

Zach Ranney faces a Prairie Ridge batter during Saturday morning’s game.

Burlington Central made Prairie Ridge pay for its mistakes in Saturday morning’s 3A Sycamore Sectional semifinal. The Rockets scored four unearned runs on their way to an 8-3 victory.

The Rockets jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second inning thanks to two Wolves errors. Catcher Matt Krenz’s bad throw on an attempted double play brought home Blake Alexander, while pitcher Mike Reitcheck’s errant pick-off attempt to first base allowed Michael Scott to score. Later in the inning, an RBI single by Zach Ranney scored Riley Jensen, who reached base on Krenz’s error.

“That’s what we’ve done all year. We’ve made mistakes early and but they still keep battling, and they keep fighting,” Prairie Ridge coach Glen Pecoraro said. “There’s been a lot of games this year where we’ve come back and won in those situations. These guys have done a nice job on that this year, today we came up a little bit short.”

The Wolves did show some fight, and were within 4-2 going into the seventh inning, but more mistakes allowed the Rockets to pull away.

The Wolves committed one error and allowed a run to score on a passed ball as the Rockets scored four runs to take an 8-2 lead. Burlington Central (27-10) got a two-run double from Kevin Zasada and an RBI single from Bryan Cynova in the inning.

Ranney picked up the victory after allowing three runs and nine hits while striking out five and walking two over seven innings. The right-handed senior had to work out of a few late inning jams. The Wolves’ had their lead-off men reach base in both the fifth and sixth innings, but were unable score both times.

“I was just trying to keep my composure. Coach always tells us that defense can pick you up, so I’ve always got to think of that,” Ranney said. “I had to push through it, and hoped the defense picked me up”

Prairie Ridge’s attempt at a sixth inning rally was doomed by a failed squeeze attempt. With runners at first and third with one out and Brad Schillinger at the plate with a 2-0 count, Pecoraro called for the squeeze. However, Schillinger’s bunt attempt was thwarted by a high and tight fastball by Ranney. The senior second baseman was unable to make contact, and Bryan Klendworth was easily caught trying to reach home.

“Hits were hard to come by today, and I was just trying to get something going,” Pecoraro said. “The stuff we did today, bunting wise, trying to squeeze, we’ve done it all season long. We’re not going to change now.”

Alexander led the Rockets on offense, going 3-for-4 with two singles and a solo home run in the third inning that cleared the left-center field fence with ease.

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

The Rockets congregate in left field after their victory on Saturday.

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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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Boys Baseball: Naperville Central Gets Revenge, Beats DGS For Regional Title

Naperville Central celebrates at home plate after winning a regional title.

Last year, Naperville Central’s season ended with a 3-1 loss to Downers Grove South in a regional final. The Redhawks finally got revenge on Saturday, knocking off the Mustangs 5-1 in the Downers Grove South regional final.

“It was great. They beat us last year. We needed to beat them this year, we couldn’t let that happen twice,” Redhawks second baseman Jeff Lucas said.

Naperville Central (25-12) was led by pitcher Jim Nashert, who turned in an all-around clutch performance. The right-handed junior surrendered no earned runs while allowing four hits and three walks in seven innings of work. Nashert also helped out on offense, driving in two runs and scoring another.

“Contributing at the plate gives me confidence on the mound,” Nashert said. “After I got my first hit, I felt more confident out on the mound and it was pretty smooth sailing from there, it was fun.”

Naperville Central took advantage of four Downers South errors to score its first three runs.

The Redhawks took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when an infield error allowed Nashert to score.

After Mustangs left fielder Zach Taylor tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single in the fourth inning, the Redhawks scored two more unearned runs in the fifth inning to retake the lead.

Nashert’s RBI groundout drove in Lucas to put the Redhawks up 2-1. Two batters later, Naperville Central went up 3-1 when Kevin Linne – who reached base on an error – scored on another infield error.

The Redhawks scored two insurance runs in the seventh inning, going up 5-1 on a sacrifice fly by Nashert and an RBI single by Ross Murphy.

Downers South (24-13) coach Darren Orel said his team just couldn’t afford to make that many mistakes.

“They’re a great team, you give them extra outs and they’re going to take advantage of it,” Orel said.

Mustangs pitcher Brian Glowicki gave up just two earned runs and seven hits while striking out four and walking none in seven innings on the mound.

Naperville Central got a boost from the bottom of its batting order. Lucas and Linne, the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters in the Redhawks lineup, combined for three hits and four runs scored.

“Jeff Lucas came up huge today, he’s been batting for the last couple weeks,” Redhawks coach Mike Stock said. “And Kevin Linne, we put him in right field for defensive purposes, but he’s a battler at the plate too, and he put the bat on the ball, and made them make some plays.”

Naperville Central, the No. 5 seed in the Romeoville sectional, moves on to face No. 1 seed Plainfield North at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in a sectional semifinal.

Lucas believes the Redhawks have the talent to make a deep run in the playoffs.

“When we play like this, we’re unstoppable,” Lucas said. “When we get hits, and pitch like (Nashert) was pitching today, we can beat anybody.”

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

The Redhawks and Mustangs shake hands after Saturday’s game. It appears here.

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Boys Baseball: Metea Knocks Off WWS, Advances To First Regional Final

After Metea Valley struggled in three straight losses last week, Mustangs coach Craig Tomczak had every right to be concerned about his team’s bats going into Thursday’s regional semifinal against Wheaton Warrenville South.

But the Mustangs pushed any doubt aside, pounding out 16 hits and 12 runs in their 12-5 victory over the Tigers.

Metea Valley, the No. 10 seed in the Romeoville sectional, advances to play second-seeded Hinsdale South at 10 a.m. Saturday in the Waubonsie Valley regional final.

“We didn’t swing the bats real well last week and I was a little nervous going in to the game today,” Tomczak said. “Our approach today was great. It took us a couple innings to get going, but everyone always says that hitting is contagious, and that one inning we put a bunch of hits together.”

The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on an RBI single by Ryan O’Neil. Wheaton South was in position to add more – they had the bases loaded with just one out – but Metea pitcher Tom Bolle induced a double play to end the inning.

The Mustangs’ bats broke out in the third inning, scoring five runs on six hits. Kenny Obendorf, Michael Mooney, Billy Sheeren, Austin Kinnavy and Ben Doiron all chipped in RBI singles during the inning as the Mustangs took a 5-1 advantage.

Metea (17-18) added two more runs in the fifth inning on RBI singles by Kinnavy and Obendorf.

In the seventh inning, the Mustangs had their second five-run frame. Andrew Fox started the scoring with an RBI single that brought home Kinnavy. Then with two outs and two strikes, Mooney launched a grand slam to left field that put Metea up 12-1. It was the junior first baseman’s first grand slam at any level.

“It was really exciting,” Mooney said. “I was trying to get the bat on the ball, it worked out.”

Obendorf went 3-for-5 with 2 RBI and 2 runs scored while Kinnavy went 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored. Of the Mustangs 16 hits, 15 were singles. Mooney’s grand slam was Metea’s first and only extra base hit.

“We have the type of team that if we get a lead, I think we’re better offensively. Then we can bunt a little bit, we can hit and run, we can steal bases from time to time,” Tomczak said. “We have a lot of base hit guys, and when you’re trailing, it’s hard to do the things we like to do offensively.”

The Tigers got RBI base hits from Kevin Giltz and O’Neil as they scored four runs in the bottom of the seventh. Metea pitcher Adam Cielinski relieved Bolle with two outs in the inning and retired the only batter he faced to clinch the Mustangs’ 12-5 victory.

The Mustangs will make their first ever appearance in a regional final game on Saturday. Tomczak said the Mustangs want to go even farther.

“These kids have worked hard for it for three years. But our job is not done, we’re not satisfied by any means,” Tomczak said. “But we know the job Saturday is going to be really, really tough. They’ve got a real good team.”

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

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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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