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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 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 Baseball: Big Fourth Inning Powers Minooka Past Oswego East

Oswego East warms up before Tuesday’s game against Minooka.

After a promising start, Oswego East gave up eight runs in the fourth inning as the Wolves dropped their fifth straight game 12-1 to visiting Minooka in six innings on Tuesday.

Minooka first base man T.J. Condon had two hits and three RBI and pitcher Kevin Ruff only gave up two hits and one run as the Indians picked up the Southwest Prairie Conference victory.

“When you’re in a tight ball game, everybody is a little tense, hoping to get that first big hit,” said Minooka coach Jeff Petrovic. “Once we got the hit to take the lead, it just seemed like things kind of snowballed from there and we hit the ball really, really well.”

Wolves pitcher David Schurr held the Indians scoreless through three innings, giving up just three hits while striking out five.

The Wolves took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third when Nick Mazzocchi trotted home after Ruff was called for a balk.

However, things quickly went downhill for the Wolves. Minooka pounded out seven hits and eight runs as 12 Indians came to the plate in fourth inning.

Condon gave the Indians a 2-1 lead with a two-run single that caromed off the center field fence.

Max Brozovich, Dane Colvin, Tyler Thorson, Steve Wittkamp and Carson Neushwander all had RBI singles as the Indians tacked on six more runs in the inning.

“We weren’t trying to hit the ball as hard in the fourth,” said Wittkamp, who had two hits in the inning. “We were just trying to put it in play and hopefully try to make things happen.”

Joe Carnagio and Austin Polcyn had RBI singles and Condon added an RBI double as the Indians scored four more runs in the sixth inning to take a 12-1 lead.

Ruff found out he was going to start just 10 minutes before Minooka (11-8, 4-3) took the field, but that didn’t seem to have any ill-effect on the right-handed senior as he picked up the win.

“I didn’t have my best stuff but I was just throwing strikes and getting ahead early in the count,” said Ruff, who struck out five batters while walking two. “I think I only threw 60 pitches throughout the whole game, so I was really efficient.”

Oswego East (4-10, 2-5) coach Jim Vera said not much has gone right for the Wolves during their current five-game losing streak.

“We’re not hitting, we’re not playing defense. If we continue to fail at doing the little things right, it’s going to take a long time to get on the right track,” said Vera. “The talent is here, just the confidence isn’t right now.”

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

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Boys Baseball: 7-Run First Inning Propels Aurora Central Past IMSA

Illinois Math & Science Academy’s baseball team played a road game in their own backyard on Friday as they took on Aurora Central Catholic in a non-conference match-up.

With the IMSA dormitories looming beyond the left field fence, Aurora Central defeated the Titans 11-1 in six innings on the strength of a seven-run first inning outburst.

The Chargers got RBI doubles from Jake McCarthy and Mike Fidler and an RBI single from Matt Musuras as they busted out to an early lead. Mike O’Donnell drove in a run on a ground-out and Phil Schuetz and Musuras scored on passed balls to round out the first inning scoring.

It was a change-of-pace for the Chargers, who have had trouble getting things going in the early innings this season.

“That first inning was huge for us. The first couple innings this year have usually been very slow,” said Aurora Central coach Eric Fulara. “We usually fall behind, so it was really nice to see our boys out ahead early.”

O’Donnell, normally a reliever, started and threw a complete game for Aurora Central (6-8)  The right-handed junior gave up one run and four hits while striking out eight over six innings.

“I put the ball where it needed to go and got outs. I threw strikes, made them hit it and my fielders did well,” said O’Donnell, who also registered two hits and an RBI at the plate.

Chargers catcher Sean Soris, one of three regular starters in Friday’s lineup, broke out of a slump with three hits.

“I was just trying to change things up a bit,” said Soris. “I just wanted to make contact and make them make the plays. They fell for me today, they weren’t the best hits, but they fell.”

Back-to-back RBI hits by Ryan Baker and Andrew Bruss in the sixth inning gave the Chargers an 11-1 lead to end the game.

IMSA (1-8) got its only run in the sixth inning when Sam Kaufman drove in Jon Henricks with a single to center field.

Henricks went 2-for-3 at the plate with a double and a triple, and struck out five while giving up no earned runs in three innings of relief.

IMSA coach Bill Bueschen said the Titans, who made four errors in Friday’s loss, need to work on the basics.

“I talk a lot about fundamentals and I talk about making simple routine plays,” said Bueschen. “We just didn’t do that today and all this week.”

Fulara hopes the his Chargers will draw some confidence out of their victory over IMSA.

“These guys have to be confident in themselves,” said Fulara. “I’m one hundred billion percent confident in these guys, I just need them to be confident in themselves. That’s the biggest problem for us.”

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

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Boys Baseball: Kevin Fahy Continues Hot Streak As Wheaton North Knocks Off Naperville North

Wheaton North second baseman Kevin Fahy broke out of his early season hitting slump just in time for the start of the Falcons’ DuPage Valley Conference slate.

The senior went 4-for-4 with two RBI as the Falcons defeated host Naperville North 6-1 on Tuesday, a day after he went 3-for-3 in a Falcons’ victory.

Fahy says working with Wheaton North (8-5, 2-0) hitting coach Josh Coan helped turn around his season at the plate.

“Before yesterday, I was in a big time slump. I’ve been working a lot with our hitting coach on mechanics,” said Fahy. “I just wanted to get that first hit to fall, get some confidence after that and work from there.”

Falcons pitcher Lake Bachar turned in a complete game, giving up one run and seven hits while striking out seven and walking none. Bachar also recorded two hits at the plate, including an RBI single in the seventh inning.

“He (Bachar) made a lot of big pitches, and we played really good defense behind him on a windy day where it wasn’t easy to catch the ball,” said Wheaton North coach Dan Schoessling. “I thought we did a good job of not giving them chances.”

Bachar stepped up his game with runners on base, stranding seven Huskies. The Huskies had runners on first and third with one out in the second inning before Bachar struck out Kevin Garon and Marques Winick to get out of trouble.

“I was just thinking about throwing strikes and getting the hitter. I wasn’t thinking about the runners,” said Bachar. “I felt pretty good all day, the goal was just to attack the hitters and get ahead of them.”

The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the second inning after River Williams scored on a sacrifice bunt by Ed Norris.

The Huskies answered quickly, as Pat Mollo’s RBI single in the bottom half of the inning tied the score at 1-1.

After the Falcons took a 2-1 lead in the third inning on an RBI groundout by Williams, Fahy extended the Wheaton North lead to 4-1 with a two-run single in the fourth inning.

The Falcons got two insurance runs in the seventh inning on RBI singles by Ryan Jordan and Bachar.

Naperville North center fielder Mariano Long went 2-for-3 with a double, triple and deep fly out to center field.

Despite the Huskies’ inconsistent start to the season, Naperville North (4-8, 0-2) coach Mark Lindo believes the team is on the verge of breaking out.

“I think we’re very close, I think we’re on the cusp. Our approach is good, and if our approach is positive like it was today, good things will happen to us,” said Lindo. “I think we’re close to being a competitive baseball team and our guys know that.”

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

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