Burlington Central might not have a gaudy record like years past, but it appears to be building a full head of steam going into the postseason.
The Rockets are in the midst of a season best five-game win streak, and last Thursday they crossed one big item off their list of goals by beating Rockford Christian 8-2 to clinch the outright Big Northern East title.
The conference championship is the second in a row and fourth in five years for Burlington Central (12-8, 10-2), and in a season where the traditionally strong program has endured more bumps in the road than usual, the accomplishment could provide a significant boost.
“Sometimes kids just need confidence, and being able to get an accomplishment like winning the conference title under their belts is big for our guys,” Burlington Central coach Kyle Nelson said.
The Rockets lost several key contributors from last year’s sectional championship team that posted a 28-11 record, and with several new players in the lineup, a spring filled with postponed games and washed out practices hasn’t helped with building consistency.
Nonetheless, a few players on the team have been making notable contributions all year. Senior Blake Alexander leads the squad with a .436 batting average and 22 runs scored, and junior Danny Gerke headlines a solid pitching staff with a 4-3 record, 1.48 ERA and 52 strikeouts in 47 1/3 innings.
Burlington Central has nonconference games lined up every day this week from Tuesday through Saturday. The busy schedule means the Rockets still have an outside shot at claiming a fifth straight 20-win season, but their bigger priority is maintaining their momentum going into next week’s Class 3A Burlington Central Regional.
“Just getting out and playing some baseball and getting a few outdoor practices in has been good,” Nelson said. “Sometimes it takes kids a while to get into the season, and the season hadn’t really started until the past few weeks because of the weather.
“I feel like we’re making some good strides, and hopefully our goal of playing our best ball at the end of the year is coming true.”
Conference race rundown
Burlington Central already has its conference title sown up, but several other league races are going down to the final week of the regular season.
Huntley is assured no worse than a share of the Fox Valley Valley championship, and the Red Raiders went into Monday’s game against McHenry knowing one win in their final two league games would give them the outright crown in what is widely regarded as one of the toughest conferences in the state.
St. Charles East is a half game behind Batavia in the Upstate Eight River standings. The Saints are 15-6 in conference play and have a three-game series against Larkin this week while the Bulldogs (16-6) finish up their league slate with three games against Streamwood. St. Charles East, which is in search of its third straight UEC River crown, may also have to complete a game against St. Charles North that was suspended due to weather if it would decide the outcome of the championship race.
In the UEC Valley, Bartlett and South Elgin find themselves out of title contention. Lake Park is 18-4 in conference play and entered the week with a one-game lead in the loss column on 19-5 Neuqua Valley.
There is a three-team race in the FVC Fox, but Hampshire isn’t in the mix. Grayslake North (10-6) goes into the final week with a slim lead on Grayslake Central (10-7) and Crystal Lake Central (9-8).