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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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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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Girls Soccer: Kellett Nets Hat Trick As Rosary Moves On To Regional Final

Rosary walks off the field after its 8-0 victory over Hubbard on Tuesday.

Rosary hadn’t played in nearly two weeks, but the Royals looked anything but rusty when they took the field Tuesday in a 2A regional semifinal against Hubbard.

Quincy Kellett had a hat trick and Kallie Renfus added two goals and two assists as Rosary rolled into Saturday’s regional final with an 8-0 victory over Hubbard.

“It was really nice to get back in a game situation,” Renfus said. “We had some time off and we got to focus on some things we wanted to bring to the regionals.”

Less than nine minutes into the game, midfielder Elizabeth Kelley took a feed from Kellett and drilled a shot past Hubbard goalie Karina Arenas to put the Royals up 1-0.

Rosary then scored three goals in two minutes to take a commanding 4-0 lead 15 minutes into the first half.  Kellett scored two of those goals, while the other came from Renfus.

The lightning-quick Kellett, just a freshman, showed once again why she is so valuable for the Royals.

“She makes things happen after you think she’s lost the ball,” Rosary coach Kristy Kane said. “That talent and her speed make her great for our team, she’s been such a great addition this year.”

Rosary (16-5) took a 5-0 lead into halftime after midfielder Julia Callahan scored from five yards out with eight minutes left in the half.

Kellett, Renfus and Callahan each added a goal in the second half as Rosary broke out to a 8-0 lead.

The Royals dominated possession all game and outshot the Greyhounds 33-2.

Rosary keeper Lauren Frasca made two saves as she collected her 12th shutout of the year. Arenas made 14 saves for Hubbard.

Rosary will host the winner of Wednesday’s regional semifinal game between IMSA and Phillips on Saturday at 11 a.m..

After sitting out for nearly two weeks, Kane is happy that her team will be back on the field in just four days.

“I’m feeling good. Even with the long break we’re still doing things well that we were doing well before the break,” Kane said. “I’m looking forward to another game because it’s been too long of a break.”

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

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Providence-St. Mel Holds Off Tilden, Takes Home Sectional Title

The Knights cut down the nets after defeating Tilden to win the Lisle Sectional.

Providence St. Mel 65 Tilden 52

Providence-St. Mel held off a late Tilden run to capture a 65-52 victory in the Class 2A Lisle Sectional championship game Friday night.

The Knights led by 18 points midway through the third quarter, but an 18-5 Tilden run cut the margin to five (42-37) with six and half minutes left in the fourth quarter.

The Blue Devils (19-14) got within five points three more times in the final frame, but were never able to get closer.

Kendall Gatewood (16 points, 6 steals) made a lay-up to get the Blue Devils within five (48-43) with five and a half minutes to go in the fourth. Khalil Small knocked down a three-pointer on the ensuing Providence-St. Mel (23-7) possession, sparking a 16-5 run that saw the Knights take back control of the game.

“Our guys showed a lot of resilience and they showed a lot of discipline in being able to deal with their run,” said Providence-St. Mel head coach Tim Ervin. “We knew they were going to make a run, so our guys responded well by making sure they kept the lead. I kept reminding the guys that they were still winning, so play like you’re ahead and make sure to stick to the game plan.”

Small (17 points, six rebounds) came up big in the fourth quarter, scoring seven points, including the momentum-shifting three-pointer.

“I knew this was a really big game, and I knew what my team expected of me. I didn’t want to let them down,” said Small. “I had to step up. I didn’t have my greatest game today, but I just gave my all in the fourth quarter.”

The Knights trailed 13-12 early in the second quarter, but went on a 18-3 run to take a 30-16 lead into halftime. Providence-St. Mel scored the first four points of the second half to extend their lead to 18.

The Knights’ second-quarter run was fueled by their pressure defense. Providence-St. Mel forced Tilden into seven turnovers during the final six minutes of the second quarter.

The Knights’ defense forced the Blue Devils into 22 turnovers in total, including nine steals. Small had four steals to lead Providence-St. Mel.

“That’s our trademark, if we’re not playing good defense, we’re going to have problems,” said Ervin. “These guys love to play defense. That’s our motto, we get the job done by playing defense.”

Tevin King made 12 of 13 free throw attempts and led the Knights with 21 points. The sophomore guard was constantly driving to the basket and drew seven fouls as a result.

“Today my game plan was just to be aggressive,” said King. “Offense and defense, be aggressive. That helps my team win.”

Providence-St. Mel will face Seton Academy in the Joliet Central Super Sectional next Tuesday night.

Small is confident the Knights can keep their playoff run going.

“I feel really confident going into next week,” said Small.

“We’ve been through a lot this season and we work hard in practice. We love each other and have a strong bond, so I think we can keep on this good run in the playoffs.”

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

The Knights warming up before Friday’s sectional final.

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Lake Park Pulls Away From Bartlett, Advances To Regional Title Game

Lake Park might have the best high school gym mural I’ve ever seen.

Lake Park 57 Bartlett 50

Sparked by a furious finish to the third quarter, host Lake Park defeated Bartlett 57-50 Tuesday night in a Class 4A regional semifinal in Roselle.

After trailing the entire first half, Bartlett took a 28-24 lead with five and half minutes left in the third quarter. Lake Park responded with a 15-2 run to close out the third, and took a 39-30 lead into the fourth quarter. The run was led by Zach Wagner, who scored nine points in the third quarter.

“We picked up the defensive intensity and it just translated into momentum on offense,” said Wagner. “After that, we just went on a roll and got confident. We just kept on hitting shot after shot.”

The Lancers continued their run in the fourth quarter, opening up a 15 point lead (51-36) with four minutes left in the final frame. Lake Park outscored the Hawks 27-8 over a 10 minute stretch of the second half to take control of the game.

Dave Prentis made three three-pointers and had 11 points during that stretch.

“There was a point in that third quarter where the game could have gone either way,” said Lake Park head coach Josh Virostko. “If we didn’t get some stops, create some opportunities for ourselves, and they extended that four point lead, we probably lose tonight. We made a run, and got up double-digits pretty quick, and then we controlled the tempo the rest of the way.”

Wagner led Lake Park (19-8) with 19 points and six rebounds, while Dominique Spencer had 16 points and five rebounds for the Lancers.

Bartlett (14-15) was led by Jonathan Leigeber who had 14 points and seven rebounds. Marcus Aluquin and John Moss both had 10 points for the Hawks.

Lake Park will face York Friday night in the championship game of the Lake Park Regional. Virostko knows his Lancers must be up to the task defensively if they are to upset the higher seeded Dukes.

“We’ve hung our hat on the defensive end all year and if we think we’re a defensive team, we’ll prove if we’re fake or for real on Friday,” said Virostko. “York can score and they do an exceptional job of running their stuff. Obviously, we’re not going to stop them, we just want to try to contain them to a point where offensively we can score enough points to beat them.”

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

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