Jim Hallahan’s voice could be heard from the Aurora Central dugout Saturday, calling out where balls were going to be hit.
“If the youngster is hitting her spots,” Hallahan explained, “I can almost tell where the ball’s going.”
That youngster is Chargers freshman pitcher Paige Miller, and she was spot on Saturday.
Backed by superb defense, Miller pitched No. 4 seed Aurora Central past No. 2 IC Catholic Prep 2-1 in the Class 2A Aurora Central regional final for a most surprising first regional title since 1991.
Consider that 10-14 Aurora Central this week beat two teams — top seed Lisle and IC — that it lost to during the season. Hallahan hadn’t beaten Lisle in four years with the program. IC pounded the Chargers 11-4 just three weeks ago.
Three of Hallahan’s players had even looked ahead at the schedule, accepted lifeguard jobs at Raging Waters in Yorkville and were supposed to be working Saturday.
“It’s very surprising. I sure wasn’t expecting it,” Miller said. “From the beginning of the year, to now the team has really changed. The defense is helping and the hitting was a lot better.”
Miller only struck out 1 batter, but coaxed 16 groundball outs.
“She lives on the outside of the plate. If the umpire is giving it to her, you can’t hit her,” Hallahan said. “I kept telling the girls they have no idea how good they can be, and that little pitcher is carrying us.”
Miller’s defense couldn’t have played better, particularly third baseman Gabi Alfaro.
Alfaro, moved to third from shortstop at the start of the year, made a diving stop and off-balance throw of a bunt attempt in the first. In the seventh, with a runner on, Alfaro laid out for a ball hit down the line and threw out the runner for the second out, then smothered a one-hopper for the game-ender.
“I’d like to tell everybody that it was some great idea to move her there,” Hallahan said, “but that’s where she lives. She does stuff there that some college players wouldn’t try.”
Aurora Central scored both its runs in the top of the first.
Miller reached on an error leading off, Jami Dahl and Alfaro walked to load the bases, and Allie Lundquist lined a 2-run double just fair down the third-base line.
IC (19-11) got a run back in the second, Melissa Gonzalez singling in Lindsey Montoya. A further threat, though, was snuffed out on a two-out batter inference call. Two runners were stranded in the fourth, and in the fifth Alfaro threw out Gabby Curran on a close play at home.
“We had our chances. We couldn’t get the hit,” said IC coach Frank Reaber, whose team left five runners in scoring position. “I’m very disappointed. We hit it to their third baseman every time, and she played a great game.”
IC pitcher Jessica Conenna (13-8) bounced back well after the first inning, striking out nine while scattering 4 hits and 5 walks. She will be back next year, as will all but one senior.
Losing a fifth straight regional final stung, though, especially after top seed Lisle was eliminated.
“I feel bad for the girls,” said fourth-year coach Reaber. “We should improve next year, but this is the year that we should have been through to the supers.”
The Chargers will play at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Lisle sectional against Walther Lutheran.
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