Aurora Central Catholic found an answer for every challenge that came at it during an improbable run to Monday's Class 2A Northern Illinois University supersectional.
Every challenge, that is, until the Chargers ran into Lanie Schweickert.
Schweickert, the Lewis University-bound senior ace for Peru St. Bede, overpowered the Chargers most of the overcast day in front of a large, enthusiastic Memorial Day crowd for both sides. Schweickert finished with a 1-hitter and 14 strikeouts to hand Aurora Central a 6-1 loss.
St. Bede (24-5) advances to the Class 2A state semifinals Friday for the first time in school history. The Bruins will play the winner of Tuesday's game between Sherrard and Tremont.
The Cinderella story of the postseason, Aurora Central ended its season at 13-15. The Chargers won nearly as many postseason games the past two weeks in claiming regional and sectional championships as they did the entire regular season.
"I'm just real proud of these girls," Chargers coach Jim Hallahan said. "Nobody expected us to be here. That's what I had to remind them of. It just all came together in the last two or three weeks."
Schweickert came into the game with a 20-2 record, losing once when she fanned 23 hitters in a game and the other time 1-0. She struck out 20 batters in her previous game, a 1-0 sectional title victory Saturday in 10 innings.
Schweickert picked up where she left off, recording the first eight outs Monday via strikeout until freshman Paige Miller flied to left in the third inning. She did most of her damage with a devastating rise ball that the Chargers kept swinging through.
"We practiced the last two days 60 miles per hour pitches just putting the ball in play," Hallahan said. "What you can't teach them is how to lay off that high stuff. She's a great pitcher, she's everything I thought she was going to be. She comes at you hard and looks like she's standing right in your face when she releases the ball."
The Bruins scored four runs in the first against Miller (9-8). Catcher Lydia Stariha tripled just over Amber Konen's outstretched glove in deep center to start the game and then scored on the Chargers' only error. A pair of two-out RBI singles made it 4-0 -- plenty of breathing room for Schweickert.
"She's had a lot of movement the last three games," St. Bede coach Bill Prokup said. "It's nice to have that kind of girl in the circle. Lanie is a tough competitor. We wanted to get an early lead and that's what we did."
Trailing 5-0 in the sixth still without a hit, Miller put the Chargers on the board with a home run just inside the left-field foul pole. Jami Dahl walked and Gabi Alfaro reached on error to put runners at second and third with one out, but Schweickert caught Allie Lundquist looking and got Allie Kane on a fly to center to end the Chargers' only real threat of the game.
Miller (3 strikeouts, 4 walks, 8 hits, 3 earned runs) and the Chargers held St. Bede to 2 runs over the final 5 innings. Catcher Mary Wileman threw out two would-be base stealers while third baseman Alfaro continued her fine play taking away a pair of hits.
"We held them off after that (first) inning," Miller said. "It was good after that.
"It means a lot because we haven't been this far. We were all pumped for this game and nervous. We came together at the end. From the beginning of the regionals we came out strong."Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.