ROCHELLE — Cristian Burciaga was just trying to move his teammate around the bases, but the senior did more than that when he stepped up to the plate in the eighth inning of Rochelle’s conference clash with the Kaneland Knights on Tuesday.
After senior Sam Christensen drew a walk to put the winning run on base, Burciaga launched a two-run homer to left field, a no-doubter that lifted the Hubs over Kaneland by a score of 8-6 at Rochelle Township High School.
“I wasn’t really trying to hit the ball far,” Burciaga said. “I was just trying to hit it so I could advance the runner over… We’re excited and we’re always encouraging everyone to hit the ball. Everybody’s on fire right now.”
The Knights jumped on the scoreboard in the first inning with two runs off Rochelle senior Kyle Seebach, but the Hubs tied the game at 2-2 after senior Landon Griffith singled and junior Noah Mershon walked, stole second base and scored on a single by junior Riley Lodico.
“We’ve just really been preaching to the kids to hunt the fastball and to go up there looking to launch,” head coach Jarrod Reynolds said. “We talk about being aggressive and being on time with their swings, and for whatever reason that just really clicked with some of the kids and we’ve seen it in their swings.”
Rochelle took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the third inning when Burciaga clobbered a solo home run to center, but the Knights struck back with two runs in the top of the fifth inning to go back ahead 4-3. With one out in the bottom of the fifth, sophomore Hub Johnny Beck doubled to left and Seebach singled to put Rochelle back in business.
Senior Matt Albers walked and scored a run on a double by Griffith, and Seebach also scored to put the Hubs up 6-4. Burciaga entered the game in relief of Seebach and looked to lock the game down, but Kaneland homered and scored on a grounder to short in the top of the seventh to tie the game 6-6 and send it into extras.
Lodico recorded the last four outs on the mound for Rochelle, and as soon as the ball left Burciaga’s bat in the bottom of the eighth, Reynolds knew the game had been won.
“It’s great for the kids,” he said. “You can really see they’re playing with confidence… Cristian’s a really good hitter and he had an amazing year as a sophomore. Last year I know he didn’t really have the year he liked, but he’s come out this year ready to hit.”
The victory lifts the Hubs to 6-4-1 on the season, and they will look for the two-game sweep of Kaneland when they hit the road to face the Knights on Thursday.