For the bulk of the season, Neuqua Valley's baseball team looked nothing like a perennial power.
Well, Neuqua Valley became Neuqua Valley on Saturday.
Overcoming a regular season filled with struggles, the Wildcats found a way to win their fourth straight regional title with a stunning 4-2 victory over Naperville Central in the Class 4A Metea Valley regional final in Aurora.
Eleventh-seeded Neuqua Valley (18-16) -- with its fewest number of wins since 2002 -- advances to Wednesday's Oswego sectional semifinals to face No. 1 Plainfield North, an 8-6 winner over Hinsdale Central.
On the heels of their ninth regional title in 12 years, the Wildcats next week seek their second straight sectional title and fifth overall.
"All year long we've talked about how we've got good players and good kids," said Wildcats coach Robin Renner, whose team also had to win a play-in game on Monday. "I didn't see this coming, the struggles that we've had. They just had to start believing in themselves."
With junior starter Tyler Bromer cruising through six innings for Neuqua Valley, No. 4 Naperville Central (22-13) finally got something going trailing 4-2 in the bottom of the seventh when Kevin Clifford and Mack Heatherly led off with singles.
Matt Butler, who won the regional semifinal for the Wildcats, came on in relief at that point. Dan Dolehide drew a one-out walk to load the bases, but Butler coaxed a pop out and a grounder to himself to end the game.
"All week I was so nervous, just freaking out," Bromer said. "Everyone on the team was great, telling me they trust me and believe in me. That just lifted all the weight off my shoulders."
Run-scoring doubles by Brendon Daley and Clifford put Naperville Central ahead 2-0 in the first inning, but Wildcats catcher Alex Wolanski launched a game-tying 2-run homer in the second inning. Butler's RBI single in the third and Josh Piotrowski's RBI single in the fourth pushed Neuqua Valley to a 4-2 advantage.
"We just needed a couple more basehits that we didn't get," said Redhawks coach Mike Stock. "They got a couple more big hits than we did, and their kid was able to keep his composure and battle on the mound. We just didn't make him uncomfortable enough."
In front of an errorless defense, Bromer allowed 5 hits while striking out three and walking two in 6-plus innings. He allowed only two baserunners between the second and sixth innings, one that Wolanski cut down trying to steal second.
"We started out behind but we just kept competing," Wolanski said. "You've just got to stay calm and good things will happen."
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