STILLMAN VALLEY – Last year, Oregon stunned Byron in the Class 2A sectional finals with an improbable win after being down to the last strike of the game.
Still smarting from that upset loss, Byron used a three-run rally of its own after two outs and two strikes in the fourth inning in a 4-1 regional semifinal win over the Hawks.
“The baseball gods turned it around,” Byron coach Ray Bielskis said. “In postseason baseball, you never know what’s going to happen.”
Both teams finished with seven hits, but the difference was that Byron (31-5) had five singles in a row in the decisive fourth inning.
Starter Mason Smith, who had allowed no earned runs up to the fourth, retired the first two Byron batters he faced. Then, after Tyler Rowland and Nathan Peterson reached base on hard-hit singles, the count went to 3-0 on the next batter. Oregon (8-20) made a pitching change.
“Mason said he was getting tired,” Oregon coach Adam Albrecht.
Matt Murray, who threw just 74 pitches in a complete game Monday, was brought in. The Hawks’ ace responded by throwing two strikes on Base Byers to make it a full count. With Oregon looking to get out of the inning without giving up any runs, Byers drilled a hit up the middle that brought in Rowland.
Murray worked the next batter to two strikes, but Tyler Nunez also drove the ball up the middle, scoring Peterson. Austin Carlson then drove in Byers with a gapper to right-center.
“That was the story of the game – those clutch hits,” Albrecht said. “That was a tough position we put Matt in with two guys on base and a 3-0 count. After he got it to a full count, I’m thinking, ‘We’re out of this.’”
Those three runs, combined with another run scored in the third inning on a dropped infield pop fly, gave Byron a 4-0 lead. That third-inning run also came with two outs.
In the fifth inning, Joey Rowe tried to score from first base on an infield throwing error, but was thrown out at home on a heads-up play by second baseman Dennis Reedy.
“That was huge, stopping any momentum for them,” Bielskis said.
With Sawyer Reynolds and Tyler Blume – who combined for three of the seven Hawk hits – up next, it was a critical stop for Byron.
Up to that point, it was the first time in the game that the Hawks advanced past second base, as Daniel Lowe never got in trouble on the mound.
With two outs in the seventh inning, Oregon put a scare into Byron, as Rowe scored on an Adam Bettner double to cut the lead to 4-1. Lowe was replaced with another lefty, Peterson, who retired the next batter to preserve the win.
“Both Lowe and Peterson are 1A and 1B, there’s not much drop off,” Albrecht said. “When we scored in the seventh inning, the thought crossed my mind that this could be last year all over again. Our kids will battle and battle.”