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Baseball: Alex Buchanan flirts with perfection as Kanelands win regional title

Knights beat Burlington Central 3-2, advance to play Dixon

ELGIN – Alex Buchanan was perfect for five innings Saturday, albeit non consecutively.

He was plenty good the other two.

Buchanan's gem powered Kaneland to a 3-2 win over Burlington Central in Saturday's Class 3A regional final held at Judson College.

It's the Knights' second straight regional title.

Buchanan’s fastball stymied the Rockets for their first 12 batters of their lineup. Even after issuing his first walk of the day to start the fifth inning, it seemed like Buchanan still had a shot at facing the minimum. But a botched double play that resulted in only an out at second brought Brenden Rindhage to the plate with a runner on first.

Rindhage took an outside fastball the other way off of the left field wall to put Buchanan in his first jam of the game. After a single and a sacrifice fly, the Rockets all the sudden had signs of life.

Buchanan said that he was aware that he was carrying a perfect game into the fifth

"I don't try to, but in the back of my head I always know how I am doing on the day," Buchanan said. "I'm kind of glad that it didn't get to the point where I had one going into the seventh, because I feel like that might have been too much pressure."

The Kaneland (27-9) offense got to Central starter Zach Zuiker for three runs in the game’s first two innings. However, Zuiker was able to settle in and keep the Knights off the board for the next two innings, before being lifted in favor of Danny Kinney when he walked and hit the first two batters of the fifth inning.

After walking the first batter he faced, Kinney shut the door on a golden opportunity for the Knights to pad their lead, getting two infield flies and a pop out to neutralize the threat. 

“Oh my gosh, we are going to be talking about that for the next few days," Kaneland coach Brian Aversa said. "Our defense played well and the offense was hot early. Three runs for Alex Buchanan is a ton of runs and he held true through the end. I would have liked a few more runs though."

After throwing a perfect sixth inning, Buchanan trotted back out onto the mound for the seventh. After inducing a weak liner to shortstop Bryce Stair and striking out Tristian Samuellan, Buchanan walked Rindhage after a lengthy battle.

Buchanan was able to strike out Ethan Krieger for what should have ended the game. However, Krieger broke right out of the box to first base, beating the dropped third strike throw to first by catcher Nik Panico. With the bases loaded and two outs, Buchanan got a tapper back to the mound and was able to corral it and get the out at first.

"I think my eyes were closed half way to first base," Buchanan said. "I don't really remember it to be honest. I was just thinking about not getting rid of the ball too fast, making a good flip and we'd be on our way."

The Rockets just fell a little bit short in the end, even with all the pressure they applied late. Coach Kyle Nelson said that the margin for error was razor thin today.

"We were tenths of inches under balls today," Nelson said. "We were on time with most of [Buchanan's] fastballs. We had good swings, we weren't off balance, we were getting good pitches to hit and our barrels were just tenths of inches under where they needed to be." 

By the numbers: Buchanan's gem was a complete game two hitter where he walked only two batters. Kinney was just as effective in relief for the Rockets, retiring six Knights in a row in two innings, walking only one.

Beyond the stats: A lot of factors went into making this game unique. The game was moved to Judson University's Hoffer Field, which is a turf infield with a natural grass outfield. It also didn't start until 5:00 p.m, which led to some interesting shadows as the game wore on.

Up next: The Knights move onto the Class 3A Sycamore Sectional, where they will play the Dixon Dukes on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m.

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