Baseball: St. Edward falls short in regional final
A second trip to Oregon did not yield hardware for the St. Edward baseball team Monday.
Seeking the program's first regional plaque in a decade, the fourth-seeded Green Wave dropped a 2-1 decision to No. 1 Byron in the Class 2A Oregon regional final, which was suspended Saturday with the score tied 1-1 through four innings.
The teams completed the final 2½ innings in 29 minutes.
Byron took the lead in the bottom of the fifth with an unearned run against St. Edward pitcher Drew Tilche.
Austin Buser led off with a line-drive single to left. He then scampered to third base on Tilche's errant pickoff throw. Chase Binkley followed with a bloop single to center field to drive in Buser with the only run pitcher Zach Tucker needed.
Tucker used a slow curveball and a well-located fastball to keep the Green Wave at bay. He allowed 2 hits in 3 innings, issued no walks and finished with 3 strikeouts.
St. Edward mounted its best threat in the sixth. Mikey Lopez led off with a single and Jeff Mamrot reached on a one-out infield single. However, Tucker used his curveball to induce consecutive groundball outs to first baseman Tyler Elsbury.
"If you mix it up like that with the curveball and the fastball, it's big," Tucker said after his third mound appearance of the season.
He retired the St. Edward 6-7-8 hitters in order in the seventh to secure Byron's first regional title since 2014, when the Tigers were the Class 2A state runner-up.
"He has good junk and a decent fastball," St. Edward first-year coach Mike Rolando said. "We couldn't time up his curveball."
Byron (17-11) advances to a Byron sectional semifinal on Wednesday at 7 p.m. against Rock Island Alleman, a 5-3 winner over Peru St. Bede.
St. Edward (16-17) fell shy of its goal of winning the program's first regional since 2009. Still, the Green Wave enjoyed a promising bounce-back season. Their 16 wins matched the program's three-year victory total between 2015-2017.
"It was definitely the chemistry we've been building since my freshman year on varsity," senior captain Mikey Lopez said. "We built it up every year. We had a lot more confidence coming into my senior year. We knew what was at stake and we stepped it up,"
The team succeeded under a new coaching staff. Rolando, the school's 14-year football coach, took the reins of the baseball program along with assistant coach Scott Brockner, joined by fourth-year assistant Eric Olson.
Lopez, a four-year varsity player, said his former coaches "did a great job" but said "coach Ro demanded more of us. He truly brought out the best in us. He pushed us. That definitely helped us out tremendously."
Rolando said the credit belongs to the players.
"We challenged them with a 20-win season and a regional championship and they came really, really close," Rolando said. "We were a few rainouts away from the 20 wins and a couple of innings away from a regional plaque. These guys have done so much for the program, especially the seniors. I'm so proud of them."