Baseball: Burlington Central chasing spot in state finals
By Erik Jacobsen email@example.com June 3, 2012 5:54PM
Burlington Central catcher Tanner Scott chases down a Prarie Ridge base runner Saturday. Scott and the Rockets take on LaSalle-Peru in the Class 3A Rock Island Supersectional on Monday. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 7, 2012 8:13AM
Kyle Nelson has endured enough playoff heartache during his seven-year tenure as Burlington Central’s baseball coach to know to savor his team’s current postseason run.
The Rockets are one of eight teams still standing in the Class 3A playoffs after claiming their first sectional championship in program history with a pair of victories Saturday. They’ll try to earn a berth in the state finals when they square off against LaSalle-Peru (32-6) in the Rock Island Supersectional at 7 p.m. Monday at Augustana College.
For Burlington Central (28-10), the marathon day Saturday marked a defining moment for a program in the midst of its 12th 20-win season in 14 years. The Rockets have six regional championships during that span, but it wasn’t until the sixth try that they finally broke through and ended their string of sectional disappointment with an impressive victory against a stout Prairie Ridge club in Saturday’s rain-postponed semifinal before coming back a few hours later to beat Freeport for the title.
“After the regional title, we said anything after, that’s gravy,” Nelson said. “Baseball is such a random game, and there’s so much that can go right and wrong. Not always the best team wins every game in a single elimination format. So anything after the regional, you just enjoy the ride.”
A serious challenge awaits Burlington Central against LaSalle-Peru, which hasn’t allowed a run in its four postseason games. The Cavaliers pounded Galesburg 11-0 on Saturday to win their own LaSalle-Peru Sectional.
The victory secured LaSalle-Peru’s fifth sectional title in program history. The Cavaliers won three in a row from 2007-09 under coach Bill Booker, who is stepping down following the season after 20 years at the helm.
It figures to be an interesting matchup when the dominant pitching of LaSalle-Peru goes against a loaded Rockets batting order.
Senior Zach Ranney, sophomore Bryan Cynova, senior Tanner Scott, senior Ray Hunnicutt and junior Blake Alexander make up the first five hitters in Burlington Central’s order, and all boast an average of .300 or better. Scott leads the way with a .433 average, 13 home runs and 48 RBI, and the catcher’s 41 round trippers during his four varsity seasons is tied for the third highest career total in state history, according to ihsa.org.
“I think the way we’re playing that we can beat anybody,” Hunnicutt said. “It’s just my thought process. If you don’t believe it, nobody else can believe it. It’s just fun from here, so whatever happens, happens.”
The Rockets also boast an effective pitching staff that includes three solid starters. Ranney and fellow senior Riley Jensen both did their jobs by tossing complete games Saturday, leaving junior Michael Scott fully rested and ready to go in the supersectional. Michael Scott owns a 3-2 record, a 1.52 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 50 2/3 innings this season.
Senior Mike Lynch boasts a 12-0 record and an ERA less than 1.00 for LaSalle-Peru, but he tossed a complete game in Saturday’s sectional championship and will likely be unavailable for the supersectional. Sophomore Noah Lamboley and senior John Heister combined for a shutout in the sectional semifinal and could get the nod for the Cavaliers.
“We don’t know anything about (LaSalle-Peru),” Nelson said. “So we’ll go in and just hope we throw strikes and pick up the ball and take good at-bats.”
Tyler Haar contributed