Baseball: Talented trio key to Burlington Central’s success
By Erik Jacobsen email@example.com May 29, 2012 7:24PM
Burlington Central's Zach Ranney rounds the bases after belting a home run earlier this season. Ranney and fellow seniors Tanner Scott and Ray Hunnicutt have been catalysts for the Rockets this spring. | John Konstantaras~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 29, 2012 11:55PM
A baseball team’s lifeline often runs up the middle of the field, where coaches prefer to position their best players.
Burlington Central is no exception, but in the case of the Rockets, their strength up the middle includes three of the top players in the area.
Catcher Tanner Scott, center fielder Ray Hunnicutt and shortstop/pitcher Zach Ranney are all enjoying outstanding senior seasons, and the three varsity veterans make up the driving force behind what has been another highly successful campaign for Burlington Central.
The Rockets already wrapped up their fourth straight 20-win season, their second Big Northern East title in three years and their third regional title in four years. Now they’re hoping to break some new ground by claiming the program’s first sectional championship.
Burlington Central (26-10) begins the quest Thursday when it takes on Prairie Ridge (28-9) in the semifinals of the Class 3A Sycamore Sectional at Sycamore Park. The Rockets will be trying to avenge an 8-7 loss to the Wolves in the final week of the regular season.
“We haven’t won a sectional yet in school history for baseball, so that would be a big thing to do,” Hunnicutt said. “We kind of let one go against Prairie Ridge earlier this year, so it would be nice to get back at them and beat them.”
The task is easier said than done against a powerhouse Wolves team that claimed a share of the Fox Valley Valley Division title, but count on Scott, Hunnicutt and Ranney being up to the challenge.
Scott ranks among the most prolific sluggers in state history with 40 home runs in four varsity seasons. This year he leads the Rockets with 12 round trippers, 43 RBI, 11 doubles and a .453 batting average out of the No. 3 spot in the order
Ranney has been an effective leadoff man, as evidenced by his .427 batting average, two home runs, 20 RBI and 33 runs scored. Hunnicutt has produced out of the clean-up spot to the tune of a .337 average, three home runs, 19 RBI and a team-best 39 runs scored.
“I don’t think I’ve written a lineup card all year without those guys in the one, three and four spots,” Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson said.
Hunnicutt is a three-year varsity member who also spent four varsity seasons with Burlington Central’s basketball team. His athleticism has been a critical asset for the Rockets on the diamond this spring.
Nelson credits Hunnicutt for making significant defensive improvements in center field, but it is Hunnicutt’s production on the base paths that is perhaps most impressive. The 2011 IBCA Class 3A All-State selection is a perfect 28-for-28 in stolen bases this year.
“Ray has learned how to use his speed,” Nelson said. “It’s one thing to be fast, but it’s another thing to know how to read pitchers and get jumps on guys. He’s made really good improvements there the last few seasons.”
Scott also landed IBCA Class 3A All-State honors as a junior, and his prolific offensive production alone should be enough to warrant a spot on the list again this spring. What isn’t discussed as much is Scott’s play behind the plate and his role as the team’s defensive general on the field.
“One of the things with Tanner that goes overlooked is he’s a fantastic receiver,” Nelson said. “I feel like he gets three or four strikes a game just by the way he receives the baseball. I don’t necessarily mean framing the baseball, but just receiving it properly and making sure he doesn’t bury pitches in the dirt.
“That’s one of the overlooked parts of the game and he does a fantastic job of it.”
Hunnicutt and Scott both remain uncommitted in terms of where they will play in college, but Ranney has his plans in place as he’ll play at Division III Adrian College in Adrian, Mich.
Ranney, a three-year varsity member who also was a standout receiver for Burlington Central’s football team, boasts an 8-2 pitching record, a 2.77 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings in addition to his offensive exploits and solid play at shortstop.
“I think (Adrian College) got a nice pickup there,” Nelson said. “I feel like Zach’s a pretty good player who will be good at the next level.”
The winner between Burlington Central and Prairie Ridge advances to Saturday’s championship to play the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between Marmion (22-10) and Freeport (16-20).
As far as Nelson is concerned, the Rockets will be going toe to toe with the favorite to win the sectional title when they square off with the Wolves in the semifinals.
“Prairie Ridge is the team to beat in this sectional,” Nelson said. “They are the Fox Valley Conference champions and obviously they have some amazing talent on the mound, in the field, at the plate, and heck, even on the bench.
“(Prairie Ridge) is not a team we can make a lot of mistakes against and still beat. We’re going to have to outplay them in order to beat them.”