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Aurora Christian teammates mob game hero Ryan Suttle (middle). | Jon Cunningham~For Sun-Times Media
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but Aurora Christian has found itself in the place it wanted to be at the end of the season.
With a first-year coach in Pat McNamara trying to install his system, several key members of the team getting a late start due to a run to a state football championship and a key injury in January to Ryan McQuade — who has since recovered — the Eagles were 12-11 after a loss to Aurora Central Catholic on Feb. 2.
There were stretches of four losses in five games and five losses in six games along the way. But the biggest streak has happened lately, a string of seven straight wins, including Friday’s dramatic buzzer-beater over top-seeded Immaculate Conception in the Class 2A Westmont Regional championship.
That put the Eagles in Tuesday’s Class 2A Byron Sectional semifinal against one of the state’s top teams, Winnebago (29-0).
“When the playoffs start, the record doesn’t matter at all,” said senior Ryan Suttle, who hit the game-winner Friday as part of a 21-point effort. “We just started clicking at the right time. Perfect timing, it feels great.”
Winnebago is not an unfamiliar opponent to the Eagles (19-11). Back on Jan. 29, the Indians came to Aurora and beat the Eagles pretty soundly, 70-57, as part of their unbeaten run.
The Indians are a star-driven team, led by senior standouts Jacob Posley and Matt Reinke. They had to hold off a strong test from an Oregon team they beat three times this season to win the regional on Friday, but they survived and kept their unbeaten season intact.
“We want to get another crack,” McNamara said. “They beat us fairly handily in January back at our place. But we’re playing better ball. I think our kids will be mentally prepared. We’re just playing at a higher level lately, sharing the ball. We have some offensive weapons. We’re looking forward to Winnebago.”
A win at Marmion turned things around and started the current streak for ACS. Then the Eagles really found their stride, scoring 78 or more points in four out of five games. Two of those wins came over St. Edward, the team that came into ACS and handed the Eagles their first loss of the season way back on Nov. 30.
The second two meetings were quite different, however. The Eagles hung an 83-44 loss on the Green Wave at home on Feb. 9 and then easily handled them in the regional semifinals, 78-66, to advance to the title game.
Now, the Eagles have their sights set on an unbeaten team. As Suttle said, they aren’t concerned about their record at this point in the season. Now they get a chance to see if they can continue this late-season roll for another game.