Baseball: Huntley’s AJ Putty takes on new role as Red Raiders’ leadoff man

Huntley’s AJ Putty plays first base in varsity baseball at Barrington Saturday.

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, Huntley’s AJ Putty does not look like a typical leadoff hitter.

Red Raiders coach Andy Jakubowski doesn’t care about that. He is sticking with a simple philosophy he utilized the three previous seasons with Ryan Bakes.

“I want our top hitter to get as many plate appearances as he can throughout a season,” Jakubowski said. “AJ’s hit one or two [homers] this year. We’re figuring out our lineup, but I want that dude to get five plate appearances every day.”

The plan worked well with Bakes, who was the 2023 Northwest Herald Player of the Year and now plays at South Carolina. Bakes used his power and speed and got a few more at-bats as the leadoff man for the Raiders, who won their fifth consecutive Fox Valley Conference title.

It is a different look for Putty, a junior corner infielder-pitcher committed to Illinois. He hit .390 last season with an OBP of .476, a 1.116 OPS, six home runs and 36 RBIs.

“It’s definitely a big change batting leadoff, with more at-bats,” Putty said. “I’m getting used to it. You have to attack the first pitch.

“It’s 100% a different mindset. You’re the tone-setter of the game. If you get on, it’s good momentum for your team.”

Putty is hitting .353 with a .417 OBP, one homer, two RBIs, seven runs and three walks for the Raiders, who are 6-0.

Hampshire's Ari Fivelson (3) connects on a pitch for the game winning hit during baseball game between Dixon at Hampshire.  March 28, 2024

Fast starts: Seven of the 10 FVC teams had two or fewer losses heading into conference games this week.

Huntley and Crystal Lake South were both 6-0, Hampshire was 5-0, Jacobs, McHenry and Prairie Ridge were all 5-1 and Burlington Central was 4-2.

The FVC traditionally has been a strong baseball league and early returns indicate it could be that way again.

Blasting off: Richmond-Burton is the area’s winningest team at this early point at 9-2 after its trip to Alabama last week.

The Rockets have five seniors on the team and have been tough behind their top two pitchers Ryan Junge and Aiden Wicinski.

“I am extremely happy with our team and their start,” Rockets coach Mike Giese said. “We have five seniors in the program and we also had to deal with some eligibility issues early on. To be sitting at 9-2 is a huge accomplishment.

“We have a scrappy group of young men that come to compete every day and that is all you can ask.”

R-B is trying to win its fourth Kishwaukee River Conference championship in six seasons.

Big arms: Cary-Grove’s Ethan Dorchies fired a no-hitter on Tuesday, March 26 against Warren on the Trojans’ trip to Marion, Illinois. It was one of the standout pitching performances among area teams on spring break.

Dorchies beat the Blue Devils 3-0 on 97 pitches, striking out nine with no walks.

Burlington Central’s Chase Powrozek also had a complete game on that same day in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, in a 5-2 win over Avonworth, Pennsylvania. Powrozek threw only 81 pitches, struck out four, walked one and allowed one earned run.

Junge moved to 3-0 on Monday, March 25, in Alabama with a 2-1 win over Calera, Alabama. He threw 96 pitches, struck out five and did not walk a batter, giving up no earned runs.

Flipping out: Giese finally ended an incredible streak on the Rockets’ spring trip.

During the trip, Giese lost four coin flips, running the streak to an amazing 13 consecutive lost flips for R-B. Finally, Giese won one in the trip to stop the streak.

“It’s funny. We came here two years ago and lost all four coin tosses,” Giese said. “During our run to state [in 2022], we lost supersectional and state, and now all four here again. That’s actually pretty incredible.”

The odds of the same result in 13 consecutive coin tosses is 1 in 8,192 tries.

Coincidentally, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers actually had a similar streak in 2012, losing 13 in a row before winning a flip.