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updated: 5/28/2013 11:16 PM

Baseball: Scouting Fox Valley sectionals

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  • Connor Conzelman of Jacobs makes a leaping catch in left field against Cary-Grove earlier this season.

      Connor Conzelman of Jacobs makes a leaping catch in left field against Cary-Grove earlier this season.
    Rick West | Staff Photographer


Class 4A Huntley sectional

Matchups:Wednesday: Dundee-Crown (10-18) vs. Prairie Ridge (26-11), 4:30 p.m.; Thursday: Jacobs (23-11) vs. Hononegah (23-8), 4:30 p.m.; Saturday: Championship, 11 a.m.

Outlook: It's not surprising three teams from one of the state's most competitive conferences advanced to the Huntley sectional. The surprise lies in which three from the brutal Valley Division of the Fox Valley Conference survived. Jacobs and Dundee-Crown finished sixth and seventh, respectively, in the rough-and-tumble FVC Valley, a league that boasted five 20-win teams and another that won 19. Prairie Ridge finished tied for third in that division. The Wolves and D-C split 2 regular-season meetings: Prairie Ridge won 10-5 on April 23; the Chargers prevailed 12-8 two days later. Dundee-Crown played with a nothing-to-lose attitude at the DeKalb regional when it upset No. 1 seed Huntley. A young team overall, the Chargers benefit from the leadership of four-year catcher Dylan Kissack, a leader on the field and in the dugout. "He keeps things loose," first-year D-C coach Jon Anderson said. "Before the regional he told the guys 'Let's not be uptight. We're 8-18. Let's just go out and play and see what happens.' Since then we've been doing very well." Kissack is D-C's most reliable offensive player, hitting .360 (31-for-86) with 10 doubles and 13 RBI. However, the hitting-challenged Chargers batted .256 overall as a team. Their strength thus far in the postseason has been pitching. Sophomore Jared Ludwig pitched 5 shutout innings of 3-hit baseball against DeKalb, and junior Vince Damato spun a gem against Huntley, shutting out the area's highest-scoring team on 4 hits. Dundee-Crown's sudden playoff success is no mystery to its coach. "We've been making the plays behind our pitchers, and our pitchers are getting ahead of hitters and making them hit the ball instead of walking them all over the ballpark," Anderson said. "Our team has been playing well lately and it's a tribute to their hard work and what they've been working on." Prairie Ridge is led by left-handed ace Mike Reitcheck (9-1) and Olivet Nazarene-bound outfielder Bryan Klendworth, who has hit above .500 all season.

Thursday's semifinal marks the first sectional game in Jacobs baseball history. However, the Golden Eagles did gain valuable tournament experience last summer when they advanced to the Elite Eight. "It's not pressure; It's just a new goal," second-year Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said of competing for a sectional. "It's something we want to reach, but the only thing we're focused on right now is Hononegah." Sectional tournaments are nothing new to the Indians, who have advanced to a sectional semifinal eight times overall and six times in the last seven years. However, Hononegah has never won a sectional. The Indians are led by right-handed junior ace Donovin Sims (10-2). Jacobs counters with a suddenly hot lineup that punished good pitching to win the program's first regional title. In victories over Crystal Lake South and Barrington, the Golden Eagles scored 17 runs on 25 hits. The hottest bat of all belongs to senior Connor Conzelman. In his first two plate appearances against Barrington, he hammered a 3-run home run and a 2-run single. He leads the Fox Valley area with 8 home runs to go with 33 RBI. "We're swinging the bats and we're practicing well," Jacobs coach Jamie Murray said Tuesday. "(The Indians) have good pitching and they have good team speed. In practice we addressed first-and-third situations with walk offs, delayed steals, bunt coverage, just the things we should do well as a veteran team." The Golden Eagles will start either Evan Blunk (4-3, 1.62 ERA) or Nick Ledinsky (6-2, 2.92). Both seniors picked up wins in regional play. Murray has hard-throwing junior Reilly Peltier (3-0, 1.69, 2 saves) in the bullpen if needed.

Advancement: The winner of the Huntley sectional advances to the Rockford 2 (RiverHawks Stadium) sectional to play the winner of the St. Charles East sectional on Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m.

Class 4A St. Charles East sectional

Matchups: Wednesday: Lake Park (27-10) vs. St. Charles East (24-11), 4:30 p.m.; Thursday: Bartlett (16-14) vs. Wheaton North (26-8), 4:30 p.m.; Saturday: Championship, 11 a.m.

Outlook: Bartlett enters this Upstate Eight-flavored sectional with confidence, having faced all three possible opponents. Wheaton North edged Bartlett 7-6 in the final game of the regular season, though neither team threw either of its top two pitchers. Barlett won 2 of 3 games against UEC Valley co-champion Lake Park and dropped a 5-2 decision to St. Charles East on April 5. The Hawks are surging with confidence after securing the program's second straight regional title and third overall. Bartlett has a potent 1-2 pitching combination with senior Colin Nowak (2-4, 2.61 ERA, 68 K, 17 BB, 59 IP) and junior Doug Van Dyke (7-2, 2.33 ERA, 46 K, 13 BB, 51 IP). They threw back-to-back shutouts to win the Bartlett regional. Nowak tossed a 4-hitter to defeat St. Charles North 2-0 last Friday. Van Dyke followed Saturday with a 1-hitter to beat Hoffman Estates 1-0 in the title game. "If we can get some outstanding pitching like we've gotten in the past week and play defense as well as we have, we'll have a chance," Bartlett coach Chris Pemberton said. "We'll need some more offensive output, though, than 3 runs in 2 games. Runs have been hard to come by for us recently. We just have to find as many runs as we can as often as we can." Bartlett is led offensively by senior Matt Vitulli, who persevered and eventually developed into the area batting champion. He leads the Hawks with a .473 batting average (44-for-93), tops in the Daily Herald's Fox Valley coverage area. Vitulli also has 13 doubles and 28 RBI. Not bad for a player who was cut from the team as a freshman, was a role player as a sophomore and didn't play much as a junior. "I even thought he might be our third or fourth infielder this year, but he hit the ball hard right from the beginning and he made few errors at third," Bartlett coach Chris Pemberton said. "I give him credit because he's a hard worker. He went and hit by himself everyday and made himself into a solid hitter." Additional offensive threats for Bartlett include Mike Wick (.375, 27 runs), Sam Franco (.345, 12 RBI), and Ben Havel (.322, 7 2B, 222 RBI) and Jake Barrutia (.309, 7 2B).

Advancement:The winner of the St. Charles East sectional advances to the Rockford 2 (RiverHawks Stadium) sectional to play the winner of the Huntley sectional on Monday, June 3 at 7 p.m.

Class 3A Sycamore sectional

Matchups: Wednesday: Burlington Central (16-12) vs. St. Francis (21-11), 4 p.m.; Thursday: Sycamore (24-11) vs. Rockford East (17-8), 6 p.m.; Saturday: Championship, 11 a.m.

Outlook: Burlington Central seeks its second straight sectional title after winning its fourth regional championship in five seasons. The Rockets outscored Marengo and Hampshire 12-3 combined to win a regional they hosted. St. Francis will likely face Central ace Dan Gerke. The 6-foot-2 junior is 6-3 with a 1.37 ERA. He has 66 strikeouts and 13 walks in 6113 innings. "Danny's going to be throwing for us," Central coach Kyle Nelson said. "He's pretty much been our No. 1 since Day 1 this year, though we have five good pitchers that we trust. His control has been what's elevated him from where he was last year to where he is this year. He's walking fewer batters, hitting more spots." Central's offense is paced by infielder Blake Alexander. The senior leads the Rockets in batting average (.367) doubles (12) and runs scored (25). Catcher Bryan Cynova (.307) is the leading RBI man with 27. The Rockets enter sectional play a better team than they were in April due to improved defense. They played error free in the regional championship win over Hampshire. The Rockets don't know much about their three possible opponents. None were on the regular-season schedule. "We've heard a few things about them," Nelson said, "but once you get into a sectional any of the four teams could come out of it. It usually come down to who makes the most plays.

Advancement:The winner of the Sycamore sectional advances to the Rock Island supersectional at Augustana College to play the winner of the Washington sectional on Monday, June 3 at 6 p.m.

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