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Huycke fitting in as Rockets’ new leadoff man

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Rock Falls junior Dustin Huycke will be moving from the No. 9 spot in the Rockets' lineup to the leadoff position. The center fielder and relief pitcher is ready to make that transition.
Rock Falls junior Dustin Huycke will be moving from the No. 9 spot in the Rockets' lineup to the leadoff position. The center fielder and relief pitcher is ready to make that transition.

At first glance, it might look like Dustin Huycke is being asked to overhaul his offensive game.

The Rock Falls junior was an effective No. 9 hitter for the baseball team a year ago. This year, he's being moved to the leadoff spot.

Duties for the job will essentially remain the same.

"I'll need to be more of a contact hitter," said Huycke, who batted .295 a year ago in a power-packed Rock Falls lineup. "I used to always bunt, and bunting doesn't always work in high school, so I'm going to have to be able to hit the ball and make contact."

Rock Falls coach Donnie Chappell noted Huycke's offensive role on the team will actually change very little. He'll still be expected to see as many pitches as possible, to aid the batters coming up next; to lay down the occasional bunt, the better to keep opposing defenses on their toes; and to set the table for what could be an explosive offense.

"The progression is an easy one to make," Chappell said. "It's not like he's going from a No. 4 hitter where he hits the first pitch. He's going from a 9-hitter to a 1-hitter, so his role probably won't change as much for him as it would from another spot in the batting order. He's a patient kid, and he's not going to try to do too much. He's not going to try to hit home runs."

In the field, Huycke is entering his second year as a starter in center field, the position he's played his entire baseball life. He played it well as a sophomore, with just a single error in 2012.

One of the few times Huycke had any difficulty was actually an off-the-field issue. A teammate had forgotten his equipment bag before a doubleheader against Sherrard, and in going back to retrieve it, it made the duo about 10 minutes late from when they were supposed to be at the ballpark. Huycke was benched, but eventually saw playing time. It didn't go well.

"[Coach Chappell] put me in in the fifth inning and I wasn't ready for a game at all," Huycke said. "I misread a ball, and it got over my head. I'll never be late for a game again."

Huycke is a true jack-of-all-trades for the Rockets. In addition to his offensive and defensive duties, he also saw time on the mound. In 23 1/3 innings, mostly in relief, he had a 1-2 record with a sparkling 2.70 earned run average.

"He's got a nice curveball, and he does a nice job of staying out of the middle of the plate," Chappell said. "We brought him in last year in a lot of tough relief spots, because we knew he'd come in and throw strikes, and with our defense, that was usually good enough."

Along with Eddie Nelson, Jace Anderson, Austin Donoho and Steven Armoska, Huycke fills out a pitching staff that should be able to withstand a crush of games that are sure to come later this spring, once the weather improves.

"You can never have too many arms," Chappell said, "and we're going to need everybody."

The Rockets spent Monday practicing at the Sauk Valley Community College indoor facility, a welcome respite from the drills they had been doing in the somewhat cramped confines of Tabor Gym. Players could actually play some long toss and smack real baseballs, as opposed to the wiffleballs they had been hitting.

"I'm just glad that baseball's finally here," said Huycke, who also plays football and basketball at Rock Falls. "Yeah, it sucks not being able to practice outside, but at least we're getting something done."

Huycke file

School: Rock Falls

Class: Junior

FYI: Leadoff batter and center fielder for Rock Falls baseball team. ... Batted .295 as a sophomore with 8 doubles and 15 RBI. ... Also plays football and basketball for the Rockets

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