One of the best seasons Aurora Central Catholic's baseball team has had in 25 years came to a sudden stop Wednesday night in Byron.
With ace Matt Miller pitching on three days rest for the first time this year, Byron got to him for five runs in the third inning and led the rest of the way for a 10-3 victory in the Class 2A Byron sectional semifinals.
The Tigers (22-9) will play Oregon for the sectional title at 11 a.m. Saturday while the Chargers' season ends at 27-8.
"Tonight I'd say was an off night for us," Chargers coach Sean Bieterman said. "I'd rather focus on the accomplishments of this team rather than worry about one night where maybe we struggled a little. These guys probably had the best season at Aurora Central in the last 25 years. And they did it digging deep and building the program."
The loss was the first of the season for Miller (6-1) and came three days after he pitched the Chargers to a regional championship win over St. Edward.
"We weren't sure if we were going to see him. We scouted him Saturday, quite honestly I wasn't expecting to see him," Byron coach Ray Bielskis said. "When we did I told our kids we had to be patient, run his pitch count up. He's a great pitcher. He's as good as anyone we've seen this year. But it's tough coming back on three days."
Aurora Central Catholic took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first. Matt Rahn drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on Hunter Fiorito's groundout.
Rahn found himself caught in a rundown about to be picked off second base, but the Tigers threw the ball away allowing Rahn to score.
The Tigers tied the game in their half of the first on the first of two perfectly executed double steals. With runners on first and third and two outs, the Chargers threw to second on the steal, then couldn't throw home in time to get Austin Carlson sliding in.
"Our offense bailed us out today," Bielskis said. "They are a good team. I thought when we snuck that run in the first inning it took away a little of the momentum they had."
With lefty Nate Peterson (9-2) holding the Chargers to 4 hits -- three of them by Phil Schuetz -- the Tigers took control in the third.
Miller hit Byron's No. 9 hitter to start the inning, and a single to right and a bunt single loaded the bases with no outs. Ben Reibel drew a 4-pitch walk to force in a run and give Byron a 2-1 lead.
A balk pushed the third run in, then a bloop single the fourth. Peterson had one of the few hard-hit balls against Miller to make it 5-1 before the second double steal capped the 5-run third for a 6-1 lead.
The Tigers scored two more runs in the fourth to go up 8-1. Dan Lowe delivered a two-out, two-run single, part of his 3-for-4, 4-RBI night.
"I felt great warming up," Miller said. "All my pitches were working. The third inning kind of got to me a little. I don't know.
"I'll give credit to them. Byron is a good team, a real scrappy team, they hit the ball good and made us work. A couple plays didn't go our way and that changed the whole momentum."
Rahn's sacrifice fly in the fifth cut the Tigers' lead to 8-2, and Mike Fidler crushed a double to right center in the sixth to score Schuetz and make it 8-3. The Chargers' chance to further trim Byron's lead ended on a controversial force out at second base, then a runner getting picked off first base.
Andrew Bruss pitched the final two innings for the Chargers, who finished second in the Suburban Christian Conference and won a regional championship in a turnaround season for the program.
"These seniors you couldn't be prouder of them," Bieterman said. "What happened out here tonight will sting for awhile but when we move on and see the accomplishments of this team is so extraordinary. These kids really built something for us and set the tone of where we're going in future years."