Baseball: Burlington Central outlasts Sycamore for regional title
By Gene Chamberlain For Sun-Times Media May 26, 2012 7:59PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 11:27AM
Baseball is a game of situations and Burlington Central seemed to struggle with this offensively throughout the early portion of Saturday’s Hampshire Class 3A Regional championship game with Sycamore.
However, Burlington Central’s Riley Jensen, who earlier failed in a bid to play small ball, came up big at the game’s biggest moment by bouncing a one-out, seventh-inning curve ball up the middle for an RBI single against a drawn-in infield for the 4-3 victory that gave the Rockets their third sectional berth in four seasons.
“I was just trying to hit it hard and put it in play and give us a chance to win the game,” said the senior second baseman. “If they hadn’t been drawn in it probably wouldn’t have been a hit, but it was what we needed then.”
Earlier, in the fourth, Jensen had been one of several Rockets who had trouble getting bunts down in the game, and then lined out hard to right after the Rockets had put the first two runners on base in a scoreless inning.
“I should have got that one down that time,” he said. “It shouldn’t have come down to the last inning.”
It did, and Jensen delivered against Sycamore reliever Matt Godinsky (6-5), who had bailed his team out of a first-and-second, none-out jam in the sixth inning of a tie game with a pop out and a line-drive double play.
The winning rally started in the seventh with Central (26-10) trying to manufacture a win, and still struggling at it. Leadoff hitter Blake Alexander reached safely when second baseman Fred Beltrame’s throw pulled first baseman Nate Haacker off the bag.
“He was a first-time first baseman this year,” Sycamore coach Jason Cavanaugh said of Haacker. “He needs to come off the bag and swipe-tag there. There was no arguing (the call). He was off, I mean, we all saw it.”
Alexander then took off for second on the hit-and-run with Michael Scott batting. Scott didn’t get a piece of the ball with his swing, but Alexander still managed to steal second. Then Central coach Kyle Nelson opted to have Scott, who went 2-for-3, lay down the sacrifice. This time it worked well and put the winning run 90 feet away, forcing the Spartans to draw the infield in for Jensen.
“We hadn’t executed all game — bunts and those types of things,” Nelson said. “When it mattered, Mike Scott got a great bunt down.
“It just so happened that we put a little extra pressure on them. So in the end, base running was huge to us.”
The Rockets rallied from 1-0 and 3-2 deficits. They stranded two runners in the first, third, and fourth innings while Sycamore got to winning pitcher Zach Ranney (8-2) for a run in the second. But in the fifth, Scott delivered a bases-loaded, two-run single to right-center off Spartans starter Cole Nelson.
When Sycamore (21-13) came back in the sixth with the tying run on right fielder Ryan Schuring’s dropped fly and the go-ahead run on Haacker’s RBI single, the Rockets used some more speed to tie it again.
Reed Hunnicutt reached second on a two-base throwing error by Beltrame, then moved to third and scored when catcher Dave Scholz threw the ball away on Ranney’s sacrifice attempt. The Rockets loaded the bases when Bryan Cynova was hit in the head by a pitch and had to leave the game, but the pop out and double play kept it tied.
While Ranney had appeared to tire in the sixth when Central fell behind, he stuck around and set down Sycamore with one base runner in the seventh to go the distance for the win.
“I was getting slightly tired and a slightly bit annoyed at times,” said Ranney, who struck out five. “But you’ve just got to try to bounce back and that’s what I tried to do in the seventh.”
Central plays against Prairie Ridge at 4 p.m. on Thursday in the Sycamore Sectional semifinals.
“One thing we really emphasized is no matter what the situation is, we can still keep our same approach and try not to make people too up tight,” he said. “We need to play loose and play free and easy. I think when you do that, you can win close, tight games.”