What's the deal with Burlington Central?
Lately, that's the question anyone who follows high school baseball around the Fox Valley has been asking. And for good reason. People on the outside are curious about the Rockets' stellar 26-1 record, 21-game winning streak and eye-popping offensive statistics gaudier than Lady Ga-Ga's wardrobe.
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Ever hear of a high school baseball team hitting .400 for the season? It happens rarely, but the Rockets are on the cusp, hitting .397 as a team. They've scored 299 runs in 27 games, an average of 10.7 per contest. Watching them take polished at-bat after at-bat is like watching a Tom Emanski hitting instruction video on continuous replay.
The merry band of batsmen is led by one of the most fearsome hitters the Fox Valley has seen to date, senior catcher Austin Jarvis. A three-year varsity starter well on his way to his second straight appearance on the Daily Herald All-Area team, the 5-foot-8, power-hitting RBI machine is a solid athlete, but he doesn't necessarily look intimidating when he steps to the plate.
Then he swings the bat.
Powered by his perfect hitting form, the ball simply jumps off Jarvis' bat with oomph. Virtually every ball he hits is a scalded line drive. The numbers he is putting up border on the ridiculous: Through 27 games, Jarvis is hitting .560 (51-for-91) with 12 home runs, 15 doubles, 7 triples and 64 RBI.
No need to rub your eyes, folks, 64 RBI is not a typo.
"It's insane. The kid's an animal," junior teammate Nick Hahn said. "I don't know how he does it. He just has a great approach every time he steps to the plate. He knows what he's going to do."
Let's put some of Jarvis' numbers in perspective. His 12 home runs are 3 shy of the Fox Valley record of 15, set just last year by former Streamwood second baseman Brian Brauer, now at Judson University. However, there's no guarantee Jarvis will win the area home run title since senior Ben Albano of Jacobs also has 12 home runs with 10 regular-season games to play. Jarvis and the Rockets have 4 regular-season games remaining. Coach Kyle Nelson is trying to schedule additional games but - no shock here - nobody wants to pick up an extra game against Central.
Jarvis' 64 RBI not only give him a lead of 13 over Albano, they already rank among the top run-producing single seasons in state history. Heading into Tuesday's Big Northern East game at Harvard, Jarvis is tied for 22nd all-time for RBI in a season, according to IHSA records, and he can crack the top ten with 7 more. He is 16 RBI shy of tying the state record of 80 in a season, set in 2004 by Gil Metzger of Mattoon.
"I have to give credit to my teammates for being on base so I could drive them in because that's how you get RBIs," Jarvis said. "I just try to keep a solid approach, look the other way and keep swinging at strikes."
Jarvis is just as intimidating behind the plate with his rifle arm. Only 3 runners have successfully stolen a base against him, and his pickoff throws behind baserunners constantly catch nappers. "He completely shuts down other teams' running games," Nelson said.
Perhaps the most amazing thing about Jarvis? He's still uncommitted to a college program. He may accept an invitation to play for the successful program at Elgin Community College next season because major-college coaches simply have not beaten down his door. One MAC school invited him to walk on. Nelson mentioned recently that more pro scouts have come out to see his catcher than college scouts.
"I don't know why," Jarvis said when asked why he hasn't drawn more college looks. "They say, 'Oh, he's good, but he's 5-foot-8, not 6-2, 220 (pounds).' "
Note to college recruiters: Yankees hall-of-famer Yogi Berra stood 5-foot-8 and weighed 190 in his playing days. That seemed to work out OK.
Regardless of how talented Jarvis is, one player does not a 26-1 record make. Burlington Central's lineup is loaded from top to bottom. Leadoff man Sam Klein is hitting .398 with an on-base percentage of .491. Hitting second is sophomore Tanner Scott, who launched 10 home runs as a freshman. Batting ahead of Jarvis, Scott carries an average of .476 with 9 doubles, 7 home runs and 36 RBI.
"I definitely get to see more good pitches, fastballs, because they don't want to put both of us on," Scott said. "They have to pitch to one of us."
A team that pitches around Scott and Jarvis has to deal with Hahn in the cleanup spot. The junior is hitting .380 with 9 doubles, 9 home runs and 41 RBI.
The rest of the Rockets bring their own brand of volatility to the plate. Infielder Jeff Ehlers (.392, 11 doubles), outfielder Nolan Anderson (.292, 4 HRs, 18 RBI), sophomore Ray Hunnicutt (.395, 12 steals), shortstop Zack Romando (.431, 6 doubles, 4 HR, 26 RBI) and No. 9 hitter Drew Stover (.280, 24 runs) have all come up with big hits throughout the season. Every starter has homered at least once to contribute to the team total of 43.
"The talent level, I haven't seen anything close to what we've got here this year," Hahn said.
Pitching may not seem like a key to a team averaging 10.7 runs a game, but it has been more than efficient and will play an even larger role come playoff time. Nelson has two legitimate stoppers in Hahn (8-0, 2.61 ERA) and Klein (8-0, 2.47), not to mention junior Luke Fleming (5-0, 1.70) and sophomore Zach Ranney (5-1, 1.80), All four pitchers will be back next season.
"Our pitchers throw strikes, and they know we'll pick it up for them if they get in trouble," Jarvis said.
For all their successes this spring, the Rockets were named the No. 1 seed in the Class 3A Hampshire regional, which begins in two weeks. The regional is arguably the toughest in the state, featuring Prairie Ridge (18-8), Crystal Lake Central (14-10), Kaneland (18-10) and archrival Hampshire (13-11).
Prairie Ridge is only two years removed from winning the Class 4A state championship. CL Central features Oklahoma signee Connor Sadzeck, against whom the Rockets scored 5 runs in a season-opening victory. Kaneland recently swept Batavia, and Hampshire hurlers Ryan Burke and Kent Larson have pitched deep into the postseason before.
However, the Rockets can take stock in the fact they have gone 6-0 against Class 4A competition this season.
"We want to step on the field in Joliet," Scott said. "That's the goal. But first we have to get through the regional and go from there. Prairie Ridge, (Crystal Lake) Central, all those teams are tough. We just have to keep doing what we've been doing."
If the Rockets keep hitting, pitching and fielding the way they have, a special year on Rocket Hill could go down as one for the ages.