PEORIA, Ill. — Leading by two runs through three innings, Westmont looked well on its way to earning a berth in the Class 2A state final on Friday at Dozer Park.
Then the bottom fell out for the Sentinels.
Byron rallied for six unanswered runs — without many hits — and cruised to a 6-2 victory in a Class 2A state semifinal.
Westmont (27-8-1), which was seeking the school’s first baseball state championship, will now play Freeburg in the third-place game on Saturday at 3 p.m.
“I’m very proud of the team,” Westmont coach DJ Cocks said. “They have played their butts off to get here and I can’t say enough about this team.”
For a team that won its supersectional game despite getting no-hit, the tables were somewhat turned on the Sentinels on Friday.
Byron loaded up the bases in the first two innings, but Westmont senior right-hander Zach Moran wriggled out of both jams. It looked like it was going to be one of those games for Byron, which has had no problem scoring runs throughout the playoffs.
But the Tigers finally broke through in the fifth inning, pushing three runs across on only one hit. Moran opened the inning by walking the first two batters, and shortstop Tyler Nunez followed with a single to load up the bases yet again. Cocks summoned in junior right-hander Austin Loehman, who proceeded to balk in two runs while facing the first batter. In the same at-bat, Austin Carlson delivered a sacrifice fly to right field.
So in one at-bat, Byron turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead without the aid of a hit.
“That’s unbelievable to see those types of things,” Cocks said. “We’ve been through ups and downs, and up until today, we’ve fought through the downs.”
The Tigers busted open the game in the sixth when they loaded the bases again, and senior catcher Jack Fleeger delivered a drive to deep centerfield that went off the outfielder’s glove for a double, and three runs scored on the play.
Meanwhile, Bryon senior left-hander Nathan Peterson (13-0) got stronger as the game progressed. Peterson retired 14 of the next 15 batters he faced — and the one hit was promptly doubled off the next at-bat. Peterson, who had pitched all 10 innings in Byron’s supersectional victory, finished his five-hitter with one walk and 10 strikeouts, four of which came in the final two innings.
“I knew our offense would come eventually,” Peterson said. “I have all the confidence in my defense to make plays… I work hard as I can, because they deserve my best.”
Westmont mounted a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning when Moran reached on an infield single, advanced on a groundout, and scored on Tommy Franczak’s single to left field. The Sentinels added another run in the third inning when Moran reached on an error and Charlie Donovan followed with an infield single. Moran scored his second run of the game on John Kelly’s groundout in which Byron shortstop Tyler Nunez made a sliding play up the middle to rob a hit.
Moran finished 2-for-3 with two runs to lead Westmont. Bae Byers and Carlson each had two hits for Byron.
“I kind of had that feeling that maybe things were going to go our way,” said Donovan about the quick start. “We kind of beat ourselves, but at the same time they also played well.”