The Aurora Central Catholic baseball team had already seized momentum and the lead with a 3-run fourth inning, but the phantom defensive play the Chargers pulled off in the top of the fifth became the defining moment of their 4-2 victory over St. Edward in the Class 2A Westminster Christian regional Aurora championship game Saturday.
No. 2 St. Edward (16-9) trailed by 2 runs but had a runner at second base with one out when ACC ace Matt Miller faked a pickoff throw to second base, forcing the runner to dive back to the bag head first. However, the ball never left Miller's mitt.
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ACC's shortstop and second baseman deked as if the ball had been thrown past them wildly to the outfield, selling it like they work on commission. The center fielder sold it, too. So did the third baseman, not to mention 15 teammates yelling from the bench.
Confused, the St. Edward runner delayed momentarily, then jumped to his feet and ran toward third base, thinking the ball was in the outfield. That's when Miller popped off the mound, ball in hand, and flipped it to third base to cut off the runner for out No. 2.
ACC coach Sean Bieterman, who coached at Driscoll for seven seasons, added the trick play during Friday afternoon's practice.
"We all thought it was a little risky," shortstop Hunter Fiorito said, "but we went for it."
"You know what, you have to have a little fun," Bieterman said, grinning. "And they sold it like crazy. It was a lot of fun to run a play like that. You can't take yourself too seriously sometimes. It was in the old bag of tricks."
The phantom play not only deflated the Green Wave mentally, it cost them a run when Mikey Castoro followed with a single that would have trimmed ACC's lead to 4-3.
"It took all the momentum right out of us," St. Edward coach Tim Dovichi said of the trick play. "Castoro singled and that could have changed the whole game. We could have opened up more of our repertoire as far as bunting, but down 4-2 runners are precious and you can't do that stuff because you can't sacrifice outs."
"They were down after that," Miller agreed. "The next inning there were a couple of kids walking on the field, their whole dugout was down and they weren't talking. It was a huge momentum changer because our side was up, their side was down and quiet."
The regional baseball title is the 13th for Aurora Central Catholic (27-7) and its first since the Rich Swann-coached team of 2002. ACC's 27 victories are the most since coach Mike Bachio's 1995 squad.
ACC advances to the Byron sectional to face Byron, which defeated Rockford Christian 3-1 on Saturday to win the Stillman Valley regional.
Miller (6-0), a right-handed senior, won a pitchers' duel against St. Edward left-handed sophomore Jake LaFrenz (3-4). Miller limited the Green Wave to 2 earned runs on 5 hits. He walked 4 and struck out 10.
LaFrenz allowed 4 runs (3 earned) on just 3 hits, but he walked 6 batters, 2 of which came around to score. He struck out 7.
Top seed ACC took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a basehit from Phil Schuetz, scoring Matt Rahn, who drew a leadoff walk.
No. 2 St. Edward (16-9) forged a second-inning tie when Jacob Koehring doubled with one out and scored on Ryan Nudd's two-out single.
The Green Wave stormed to a 2-1 lead in the fourth when catcher Tighe Koehring belted a mammoth home run to straightaway center field, easily clearing the 385-feet sign.
"It was a fastball belt high," Tighe Koerhing said of the pitch he launched for his third home run of the season. "Right when I hit it I knew it was out."
The Chargers responded immediately in their half of the fourth. Andrew Bruss drew a one-out walk and catcher Shawn Soris followed with a double to the gap in left center. Bruss scored from first when the throw from left field sailed the cutoff man.
"I was down in the count 0-2," Soris said. "The second pitch was the curveball and I was way out ahead of it. Then (LaFrenz) threw it again and I waited back on the second one and it went straight to left field. It was pretty awesome."
Rahn followed with a playable sacrifice bunt, but LaFrenz rushed the throw and pulled his first baseman off the bag for an error. Fiorito subsequently singled to drive in the go-ahead run, and Miller made it 4-2 with his RBI groundout.
"We were chasing a run there in the middle innings and we put together that inning and it really gave us some momentum," Bieterman said. "I couldn't be more proud of these guys."