Chart toppers: Playoff teams to watch
Though the Chargers are 9-18 entering the week, this isn’t an odd pick. The Chargers are assigned to a Class 3A regional at Urbana where they have the most wins among the five competing schools. The five games Centennial has played against schools at the Urbana site have all ended with the Chargers winning by the 10-run rule. Two of them were shutouts by Danielle Staske, who is among the area’s strikeout leaders. Schools that have won the last two local 3A regionals (Mahomet-Seymour in 2011 and Rantoul in 2012) have been reassigned to a loaded field at Bloomington, where four of the schools have winning records for the season and the worst record (9-10) belongs to the host team.
Boys’ track & field
St. Thomas More
The Sabers have established themselves as more than the team favorite for the 18-school Class 1A Unity Sectional, which will be held on May 17. The track website Mile Split Illinois projects coach Dave Behm’s team as the 1A state front-runner, based on times and distances reported prior to May 1. The site predicts STM will receive points from its 3,200 relay (all runners from state championship cross-country team) as well as in distance events from Jacob Helfrich, Nick Hess, Sean Kelley and Sam Powers, plus jumper Kevin Carroll. Helfrich (800 meters) and Hess (1,600) were each individual state qualifiers a year ago when St. Thomas More competed as a Class 2A school.
The Bombers have a talented group of underclassmen pitchers, headlined by junior Gage Eller (6-0) and sophomore Keegan McHood (5-1), each of whom ranks among the area’s top four in strikeouts. Junior Cameron Hupp (3-1) is another quality pitcher. Offensively, few teams can match A-O’s punch. Led by McHood (.516), senior Gregg Boomer (.475) and junior Jeffry Parker (.471), six squad members have season batting averages above .400 while another (Eller) checks in at .396. Under the direction of coach Tom Saunches (12 regional titles in the past 26 years), the Bombers are traditionally one of the area’s best. A-O is the No. 1 seed at the Class 2A regional at Warrensburg.
Girls’ track & field
The Storm will be the host for Friday’s Class 1A sectional (4 p.m. start), a postseason meet the team has never won. Depending how coach Gail Biggerstaff enters her athletes, she could have as many as 11 girls who’ve already met the qualifying standard in their individual event or with a relay. Jenny Kimbro, Taylor Kirby, Rachel Negangard, Abby Nicholson and Toria Plotner are the team’s individual standouts. Whether Salt Fork has the depth to edge St. Joseph-Ogden, which has won 13 regional titles under coach Jerry Hewerdine, is the key question. St. Thomas More should also be in the running, but Salt Fork could have sectional champions in as many as seven events, which will pile up points.
The defending champion Bulldogs are again the team to beat in a five-school regional tournament played on Urbana’s artificial surface. M-S’ defensive-minded team won’t take anything for granted entering the semifinals, which will be next Wednesday. “We fully recognize that this (No. 1 seed) basically reflects success in the first part of the season, and that advancing out of the regional comes down to who is peaking at the right time,” M-S coach Joey Gruner said. “Regular season games have already demonstrated that any of these teams can beat any of the others, depending on the day.” The Bulldogs have yielded just seven goals during a 12-2-2 start, keeping 10 foes scoreless.