Senior Dylan Burris was off to the races this season for the Edwardsville Tigers.
The center fielder ripped 14 triples, which shattered the single-season school record of six shared by Chad Opel (1998) and Dave Slemmer (1991). It also tied a single-season state record shared by Bushnell-Prairie City’s Justin King (2004) and Oak Forest’s Mike Madej (1984).
That was just one reason coaches selected Burris the News-Democrat’s Class 3A-4A Player of the Year.
Edwardsville’s leadoff hitter batted .448 with 15 doubles, five home runs, 35 RBIs and a .506 on-base percentage. He had 64 hits, scored 50 runs and stole 24 bases as the Tigers finished 34-8 and placed second in the Class 4A state tournament.
“It’s an honor and I really appreciate it,” Burris, a left-handed hitter, said of the award. “We were one game shy of everything I would have wanted out of (the season), but I can’t complain. We had a great season and I couldn’t be happier with my team.”
My main goal was to go in and be healthy and reliable for the team all through the season. I wanted to be there and be accountable for the team.
Edwardsville senior Dylan Burris
Burris, a Wabash Valley College recruit, said good health enabled everything to click. He was limited to 58 at-bats as a junior because of a stress fracture in his right femur.
“The past two years, I’ve had health issues with getting sick or (suffering) injuries that were season-enders,” Burris said. “My main goal was to go in and be healthy and reliable for the team all through the season. I wanted to be there and be accountable for the team.
“It’s a lot nicer (being healthy). I wanted to be on the field every second I could. Being healthy this season meant a lot because I had never played a whole varsity season.”
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser said Burris’ presence had a profound effect on the team.
“He knows how to play the game at one speed, and that’s all-out,” Funkhouser said. “He was able to sustain that throughout our whole season. He was an important cog to our offense and our defense, and really, just the (mental) edge he brings set the tone for our team.”
Wasting no time
Edwardsville was just 18 games into the season when Burris hit his seventh triple of the season, breaking the previous school record.
Burris said if a ball into the gap was even with the outfielder, he typically would focus on a double. But if he saw the outfielder’s back, he wasn’t stopping until he reached third.
“My main focus was going up there and hitting the ball hard and hoping it falls,” Burris said. “Don’t get too thrilled about trying to hit a home run. Just do what’s right for the team. If there were runners that needed to be moved over, hit it to right field so they can advance. It was all about the team and scoring runs for the team.”
Funkhouser marveled at a sizzling 11-game stretch in which Burris hit seven triples.
“He would blast it over the right fielder’s head and lead off with a triple, then have Drake Westcott and others behind him bat,” Funkhouser said. “It was like a full-court press in basketball.
“There were times when he would hit a ball and I said, ‘There’s no sense in giving him the sign to come to third. He’s going to go.’ I would stand there with my hands at my side and sure enough, he would slide in and make it every time.”
Funkhouser said Burris’ power surprised opponents.
“A lot of his triples were line drives over the center fielder’s head,” Funkhouser said. “Most people don’t have that type of pop. Especially on a leadoff guy, some teams would play in a step or two and then all of a sudden he hits it.”
Burris had an opportunity to set the single-season state record for triples in the state-championship game against Crystal Lake South, which the Tigers lost 8-3.
“He hammered one off the (right-center) wall, but he knew he needed to shut down at second,” Funkhouser said of Burris’ double to right-center that came with Edwardsville trailing 3-0 in the first inning. “I was shutting him down and also was a little more animated than normal because I was afraid he was going to go to third.
“I joked with him later, ‘I thought you might go to third and try to break the record.’ He said, ‘Coach, I enjoy winning a lot more than I do individual records.’ That kind of sums up him in a nutshell.”
All about winning
Burris said he didn’t pay much attention to his statistics or setting records.
“I didn’t even realize it until we were in the playoffs. Nobody had said anything to me,” Burris said of his pursuit of the single-season state record for triples. “I never really focused on the records or anything. I just played hard every game. I never focused on my stats.
He knows how to play the game at one speed, and that’s all-out. He was able to sustain that throughout our whole season.
Edwardsville coach Tim Funkhouser on Dylan Burris
“It’s about having a good at-bat and not making the same mistake twice. You just want to try to hit line drives. That was my main focus this year.”
Burris said one of the reasons he enjoys baseball is because little things matter so much. Just as Burris played with an edge, he also was always looking to gain an edge.
“Baseball is a sport of small detail,” Burris said. “If I can work on getting better jumps in the outfield or better leadoffs and better jumps on a pitcher, I’m going to do everything I can to help further my game and get that edge other people aren’t getting because they’re not focused on it. It’s a very mentally focused game.”
Burris’ main physical gift is speed.
“It gives me an edge on other players in our (Southwestern) conference,” he said. “Anything I can use to help the team. That was one of the tools I could use to help. Every time I got on first, I would try to steal second or third and get myself in scoring position. It’s all about runs and winning.”
Off to college
Burris figures to be one of the main players at Wabash Valley College, a two-year school located in Mount Carmel, 152 miles east of Edwardsville. He hopes to continues his studies after Wabash Valley and has tentative plans to become a chiropractor.
“Every guy (at Wabash Valley) is going to be one of the best players from their school,” Burris said. “These people are here for a reason. They’re going to be bigger, faster and stronger. (But) I think my game will carry over the same way into college as it did in high school.”
Especially now that he has an understanding of what it takes to remain healthy and productive.
“My first two years (at Edwardsville), I wasn’t really educated on a healthy diet and getting enough rest. That hurt me,” Burris said. “Your body needs good nutrients and the right food to be able to stay healthy and perform at the highest level. Once I started focusing on that, I felt a lot better every single game.
“Just being more careful and being more focused on my diet and my health – and listening to what my body tells me – is part of the reason I made it through the season.”
Funkhouser expects every area of Burris’ game to progress.
“He brings so many elements to the game,” he said. “He can cover ground in the outfield, and that’s an area he’ll continue to develop. His other defensive attributes continue to improve.”
David Wilhelm: @DavidMWilhelm