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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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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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Boys Track Notebook: Leftovers From Last Week’s Kane County Meet

Athletes were greeted with great weather at last week’s Kane County Meet.

High Standards

St. Charles North’s Oshay Hodges placed in four events, but the senior was not satisfied with his performance.

“I can do so much better if I’m just injury free,” Hodges said after last Friday’s meet.

Hodges has been battling a heel injury that he suffered while doing the triple jump and the county meet was the first time he had competed in all three jumping events in over three weeks. Hodges is hoping one more week of rest will help him improve his results at Thursday’s Upstate Eight Valley conference meet.

“I’m taking it day-by-day,” Hodges said. “This next week I’ll probably heel up, be better.”

The versatile athlete finished second in the high jump, second in the triple jump and fifth in the long jump. He was also part of the North Stars’ third-pace finish in the 1600-meter relay along with Zach Kirby, Jack Feeney and Connor Larson.

Hodges did say he was pleasantly surprised with his performance in the high jump. The North Stars’ senior was locked in a tight battle with Marmion’s Peter Stefanski, the defending 2A champion. Hodges and Stefanski both cleared 6 feet, 7 inches, but Stefanski earned first place due to less misses earlier in the competition.

“I was surprised in the high jump because I almost got 6-9 which would have been a personal best. So, I guess I’m just going to take that into next week. I’m pretty sure I can get that (6-9) next week.”

Stefanski and Marmion have been bumped up to 3A this season and they will be competing against St. Charles North in the same sectional, hosted by the North Stars, in two weeks. Hodges, who finished second at the 3A meet last year, welcomes the competition.

“It kind puts pressure on me, because of course I want to go back downstate again,” Hodges said. “So I’m trying to push myself even further and they push me a lot more because I have them to compete against.”

Thanks For The Help

After winning the 400-meters, South Elgin sprinter Jeff Broger made sure to give credit to St. Charles North’s Zach Kirby.

“Actually, there’s one guy that I actually should thank, that St. Charles North dude (Kirby),” Broger said. “He actually gave me a kick. He was gaining up on me, and that gave me that kick to finish through that last 100.”

Broger entered last Friday’s meet hoping to win to win the 400-meters. Winning the 200-meters as well was just icing on the cake for the Storm junior.

“My goal for the day was winning the 400. I was nervous and I didn’t know what to expect out of that 200,” Broger said.

No Practice Makes Perfect?

Devante King of Elgin took home a county championship in the 110-meter hurdles, but the Benedictine-bound senior admitted he wasn’t exactly prepared for that particular race.

“I just winged it actually, I haven’t been able to practice it for two weeks straight,” King said. “We’ve been working on relays, trying to get to state.”

All that relay work showed as King teamed up with Dennis Moore, Terrell Campbell and Derek Moorman to take first place in the 800-meter relay and second in the 400-meter relay.

See You Later, Peter

A year after finishing 10th at state in the 800-meters, St. Charles East’s Jake Mazanke ran the event for the first time this spring and set a personal record (1:53.56). However, the Fighting Saints’ senior was upstaged by Peter Archibald of Geneva, who won the race in Kane County record time (1:52.76).

“Racing against Peter is always fun, he’s a great athlete,” said Mazanke. “It’s a little bit of blow not to win, but it’s not the last time we’ll race. I’m sure come state finals, we’ll be neck and neck again.”

Mazanke will get another crack at Archibald sooner than that – the runners will face off at Thursday’s Upstate Eight River conference meet in Geneva.

Other Notes: Streamwood’s Blake Holder, recovering from a hamstring injury, said he won’t be running any open events at this week’s Upstate Eight River meet. He’s hoping to run the 100-meters, 200-meters, 400-meter relay and 800-meter relay at next week’s sectional. In his first action since early April, Holder ran anchor for the Sabres’ first-place 400-meter relay team at Kane County … Geneva’s winning 3200-meter relay team of Peter Archibald, Michael Bianchina, Justin Davis and Nathan Wendt had never run together before Friday … Burlington Central’s Clint Kliem broke the school record in the 1600-meters by over two seconds. The senior won the event with a time of 4:18.76

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Boys Track: St. Charles North Tops Area Teams At Kane County Meet

While most of this spring’s outdoor track season has taken place in weather more fit for indoor competition, warm temperatures and blue skies greeted athletes at the Kane County boys track meet held at West Aurora on Friday.

Geneva and Kaneland both came out on top, tying for first with 74 points each. West Aurora followed in third place with 65 points.

St. Charles North had the best showing among area schools, finishing fourth with with 56 points. Burlington Central took sixth place with 44 points while South Elgin followed close behind in seventh with 40 points.

St. Charles East took tenth with 32 points, Elgin finished 11th with 31 while Streamwood ended up in 12th with 10. Larkin finished 14th with four points, while Dundee-Crown came in 15th with one point to round out area schools.

Declan Duggan was the North Stars’ lone individual champion, finishing first in the 3,200 with a time of 9:39.04.

“To win this meet as a senior, it’s a big deal,” said Duggan. “It feels good, I really can’t put it in to words. It’s a good feeling.”

Oshay Hodges placed in four events for the North Stars. The multi-talented athlete took second in the high jump (6-7) and triple jump (43-08.75), fifth place in the long jump (20-09) and was a part of the North Stars’ third place 1,600 relay.

Hodges, who has been battling a heel injury, said he was surprised by his high jump performance.

“I almost got 6-9 which would have been a personal best. I know I can make that jump, I’m pretty sure I can get it next week,” said Hodges, who finished second in the high jump at last year’s 3A state meet.

Burlington-Central’s Clint Kliem set a Kane County record in the 1,600 meters, winning the race with a time of 4:18.76. The senior broke the old record, set by St. Charles North’s Matt Desilva in 2006, by just .08 seconds.

“We’ll see a lot of these teams in the state series, so it was just great prep for that,” said Kliem. “The best of the best will be there and this is how I’ll need to preform.”

Kliem was also part of the Rockets’ second-place 1,600 and 3,200 relays teams.

Seventh-place South Elgin was paced by Jeff Broger, who took first in both the 200 (22.41) and 400 (49.67). The junior was pleasantly surprised by his double championships.

“My goal was just to win the 400. I was really nervous about the 200, I had no idea what to expect from that,” said Broger, who set a personal record in the 400.

St. Charles East’s 1,600 relay team of Carter Reading, Jake Mazanke, Danny Newman and Nick Devor finished first with a time of 3:22.35.

Mazanke also took home second place in the 800 (1:53.56), finishing behind Geneva’s Peter Archibald who set a Kane County record in the race.

“Racing against Peter is always fun, he’s a great athlete,” said Mazanke. “It’s a little bit of blow not to win, but it’s not the last time we’ll race. I’m sure come state finals, we’ll be neck and neck again.”

Elgin’s Devante King was the champion of the 110 hurdles race and the anchor of the Maroons’ first-place 4×200 relay team. King was also a part of Elgin’s second place finish in the 400 relay.

King said he had spent most of his time in recent practices focusing on relay races, not the hurdles.

“I just winged it. I hadn’t practiced the hurdles for two weeks straight,” said King.

Streamwood’s 400 relay team of Blake Holder, Art Beese, Sean Patterson and Austin Mugnai took first place (42.67). Holder, the Sabres’ anchor, ran for the first time since sustaining a hamstring injury on Apr. 14.

“We won this race last year, so it’s not a surprise,” said Holder. “But it’s definitely a big goal that we had, and we got it. Now we just need stay hungry so we can get a conference, sectional and state championship.”

Holder, the 2011 Kane County 100 meter dash champion, did not run any individual races on Friday but said he plans on running the 100 at sectionals in two weeks.

Larkin’s Cyrus French made the finals of the 400 and finished fourth (50.88). Dundee-Crown’s top-finisher was R.J. Schmidt who placed sixth in the 110 hurdles (16.26).

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

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Boys Track: Host Kaneland Takes First Place At Peterson Prep Invitational

Workers get the pit ready for the triple jump final at Peterson Prep.

Sixteen teams came to Kaneland High School on Saturday in hopes of winning the Peterson Prep Invitational, but it was the home team that finished first.

The Knights placed in 15 of 18 events, won two relays and had three individual champions on their way to capturing first place with 84 points.

“This was a nice win for us on our home track,” said Kaneland coach Eric Baron. “All these programs are very good. To finish in the top five or top ten here shows you’re a strong competitor throughout the state of Illinois.”

Geneva, who held the team lead going into the final event, ended up in second place with 75 points. Burlington Central, paced by their intermediate runners, captured third place.

West Aurora finished in fourth place with 64 points, Yorkville took fifth with 45 and Oswego East followed closely in sixth with 42. Elgin came in ninth with 30 points, East Aurora finished in 12th place with 16, and Dundee Crown ended up in 14th with 9 to round out area teams.

Kaneland rode anchor Sean Carter to first in the 4×100 (43.78) and 4×200 (1:31.31) relays. The Knights also finished second in the 4×400 (3:26.62).

Dylan Nauert (300 meter hurdles) and Nate Dyer (discus and shot put) won individual championships for the Knights.

“Taking first at a home invite is a lot of excitement,” said Dyer. “Doing it twice, it was definitely a good day.”

Geneva’s Ben Rogers launched himself into first place in both the long jump (21 feet, 8 inches) and triple jump (43-11).

The Vikings’ senior was held back last season by a nagging hamstring injury. This year he’s fully healthy and performing at an exceptionally high level. His mark in the triple jump on Saturday was a new personal best.

“I’d like to keep getting better every meet, I think that’s the goal,” said Rogers. “I think if I can keep getting better each meet, I’m going to end up where I want to be.”

The Vikings also got a big boost on the track from Justin Davis, who finished first in the 400 meters, third in the 200 meters and seventh in the 100 meters.

“We covered the events well, which is what we always preach,” said Geneva coach Gale Gross. “We had to fight through some injuries, but overall the kids did awesome.”

Burlington Central runners Mike Gulik and Clint Kliem both finished in first place in three events. The two were part of the Rockets’ first-place 4×400 (3:25.43) and 4×800 (8:01.69) relay teams.

Gulik captured first in the 800 meters (1:57.28) while Kliem was the champion of the 1600 meter race (4:24.38). Kliem ran the third leg of the 4×400 relay just 25 minutes after setting a personal record in the 1600.

“That last one was just all guts,” said Kliem. “After finishing that mile, I just kept my legs up for five or ten minutes, did a little jog, and tried not to think about the next race. It’s just all basically a mental game.”

Central athletes Ben Damisch (400 meters) and Johnny Reuter (pole vault) both took home second place in their events.

Fourth-place West Aurora was paced by pole vaulter Royce Golembeck, who jumped 13-06 to capture first in his event.

The Blackhawks also got strong performances in the field from Aaron Kennebrew (second place in the triple jump and fourth place in the high jump), Lijah Spears (second place in the discus) and Jonny Gosong (third place in the long jump).

“We came in with a good focused attitude and we did a real nice job today,” said Blackhawks coach Cortney Lamb. “It’s not our best meet, but we have a lot things we can build on.”

Fifth-place Yorkville had no individual champions but runners Jake Callahan (800 meters), Chris Kellogg (1600 meters) and Eric Baker (3200 meters) all finished second in their events. The Foxes also got third place finishes from Jake Hoffert (3200 meters) and Joe Haske (pole vault).

Sixth-place Oswego East was paced by senior Kalmon Stokes, who finished second in both the 110 meter hurdles (15.77) and 300 meter hurdles (40.84). The same Wolves team of Dakoda Skenandore, Andrew Holm, Rene Salinas and Chase Skenandore took home third place in 4×800 relay (8:09.19) and fifth place in the 4×400 relay (3:32.24).

Elgin’s Dennis Moore was definitely the standout athlete for the Maroons. The senior sprinter blazed his way to first place in the 100 meter dash (11.46) and fourth place in the 200 meter dash (23.72).

Moore, along with teammates Terrell Campbell, Derek Moorman and DeVante King, also took home second place in the 4×100 and 4×200 relays.

East Aurora sprinter Desmond Gant accounted for all of the Tomcats’ points. The electrifying sophomore earned first place in the 200 meter dash (23.07) and third place in 100 meter dash (11.61).

“In my opinion, this was the fastest competition I’ve had,” said Gant. “If I’m winning against these guys, I know I can go out at other meets and come in first with a bigger lead. So, that’s my goal now.”

Dundee-Crown’s highest finisher was shot putter Joe Meixner, whose throw of 137-09 earned him third place. The Chargers placed in two relays, earning fifth in the 4×200 (1:33.27) and sixth in the 4×800 (8:14.33).

I wrote this story for the Chicago Sun-Times, Aurora Beacon, Elgin Courier and yourseason.com. It appears here and here. I wrote separate stories for the Beacon and Courier and combined them for the blog.

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Class 5A Playoff Mini-Previews: The Quest For A Montini Three-Peat Begins

The IHSA football playoff pairings were announced Friday night, at about the same time I was watching the most painful football game (or sporting event) I have ever witnessed. Damn you Spartans. Anyway, I’m going to post my thoughts on the match-ups involving the teams I saw this season in person. Here is the first installment of my mini-previews, focusing on the 5A games. I’ll post the mini-previews of the 6A, 7A and 8A games tomorrow.

#6 Montini (7-2, 4-1) vs #11 Woodstock North (7-2, 5-1), Sat. Oct. 29, 1 pm in Lombard

Montini WR Jordan Westerkamp dives for a catch in last year’s Class 5A championship game

Montini, the two-time defending 5A state champion, enters the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the state. The Broncos have won five straight games and have outscored opponents 276 to 50 over that stretch.

The Broncos offense has transformed into a powerhouse since John Rhode took over the quarterbacking duties at halftime of Montini’s week six game against St. Francis. Rhode missed the first five games of the season recovering from a broken right thumb. In just over 10 quarters of play this season, Rhode has thrown for 1,100 yards and 22 touchdowns. Rhode has a strong stable of wide receivers to target. Jordan Westerkamp, a Nebraska recruit, is the star of the receiving corp, but Joe Borsellino and Anthony Taylor are talented weapons as well.

“There is really only one expectation for us, that’s to play in the final game,” said Montini Head Coach Chris Andriano after last week’s 54-6 victory over Wheaton Academy.” We’ve been very blessed with some great kids, great coaching staff, great teams and we’ve been able to be in that game and actually win that game the last two years so that’s our expectation, we want to practice on Thanksgiving day and play on Thanksgiving weekend.”

Montini’s two losses came without John Rhode and at the hands of two 9-0 teams (Loyola and Marian Central).

The IHSA didn’t give the Broncos any favors with their seeding. Despite the way Montini has looked in recent weeks, the Broncos were only given a six seed, and a rematch with 9-0 Marian Central likely awaits in the quarterfinals.

Woodstock North won a share of the Fox Valley Fox division crown this season in only the school’s third year as a varsity squad. The Thunder overcame a 15 point halftime deficit last week in their 47-35 victory over Grayslake North.

The Thunder, led by 5-7 fullback Ryan Wade, are a run-first team. They rushed for 333 yards during the second half of their comeback win last week. Wade had 33 carries for 189 yards in total last week.

PREDICTION:

It’s hard to see Montini losing their first round game, but Woodstock North offense will present a challenge. Montini has done well against strong running offenses this season, defeating Marmion and St. Francis, giving up two touchdowns combined in those games.

Montini 38 Woodstock North 17

#8 St. Francis (7-2, 3-2) vs #9 Burlington Central (7-2, 4-1), Sat. Oct. 29 7 pm at College of DuPage

St. Francis WR Michael Hanson against Marmion

This class 5A 8/9 match-up features two teams with run-heavy offenses entering the playoffs with multi-game winning streaks.

St. Francis heads into the playoffs on a three-game winning streak. The Spartans’ two losses to this season came to two highest ranked 5A teams, 9-0 Marian Central and 7-2 Montini.

St. Francis features a run-first offense, led by running backs Jack Petrando and Jeff Rutkowski. Petrando is more the workhorse but Rutkowski scored four touchdowns (two rushing, two receiving) last week against St. Edward.

Burlington Central, second place finishers in the Big Northern East division, have outscored opponents 151-17 during their current four game winning streak. The Rockets have only lost two games this season by a total of five points.

The Rockets offense is led by running back Joel Bouagron. The 6’1, 205 lb. junior has rushed for 376 yards and five touchdowns over the last two weeks.

PREDICTION:

Burlington Central 28 St. Francis 24

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