MARENGO – Through four innings of Saturday's Class 3A sectional final against host Marengo, Sterling struggled to solve Indians freshman pitcher Mariah Dionne.
The Golden Warriors had only one hit entering the bottom of the fifth as Marengo held a 2-0 lead thanks to a two-run homer from senior Abby Kissack in the top of the inning. Then things changed, and Marengo couldn't stop Sterling's offensive outburst.
The Golden Warriors scored five runs in the fifth, including four with two outs, and Marengo's offense couldn't respond. The Golden Warriors scored another run in the sixth and held off the Indians for a 6-2 sectional final win.
It marks the second consecutive season Marengo (28-11) lost to Sterling in a sectional final. Kissack's home run was her third in two games, all of which came on inside pitches.
"Usually, when you get on the board first, it's a lot easier for your pitcher, and also it's easier for your defense," Kissack said. "(Sterling) was just putting it in play and trying to get timely hits. That's usually what sparks a rally. They kept going and going, and we couldn't get that last out."
Marengo had a chance to take a lead in the first, but Leah Secor, who reached on a Sterling two-base throwing error to start the game and advanced on a sacrifice bunt, was thrown out at home on a ball hit back to the pitcher. The Golden Warriors threw out another Indians runner to end the fourth, keeping the game scoreless, when Taylor Carlson tried to score from second on Allison Jasinski's single to left field.
"It's been our strategy all year, being aggressive," Marengo coach Dwain Nance said. "We left four on in the first three innings, and you have to hit them in. That kind of came back to bite us. We had one bad inning, or they had one good inning, whichever way you want to look at it."
Darlen Bardoner's solo homer on the first pitch from Dionne cut Marengo's lead to 2-1 with one out in the fifth. Sterling followed with a single, a sacrifice bunt and a walk by the leadoff hitter. A wild pitch and stolen base put runners on second and third for the Golden Warriors (29-8) with two outs. Marengo couldn't get that final out to preserve its lead, however.
Shannon Long hit a two-run double on a full-count pitch from Dionne to give Sterling a 3-2 lead. It prompted a Marengo pitching change as Nance called on Kissack. But following another walk, Nadia Trujillo connected for a two-run triple to extend Sterling's lead to 5-2.
Bardoner hit another solo homer in the sixth for the Golden Warriors' final run of the game. Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said she was a bit surprised by her team's fifth-inning outburst, considering how they had been hitting. Edmondson said she came to watch Marengo's sectional semifinal game against Belvidere to scout and watch Dionne's tendancies.
"I guess they just timed me," Dionne said of Sterling's big inning. "I really couldn't say."
"There was nothing down the middle at all," said Carlson, Marengo's catcher. "(Dionne) rarely does that. They're a good hitting team."
Marengo's offense couldn't get going. The Indians went down in order easily in the top of the sixth against Sterling freshman pitcher Lexy Staples, failing to hit the ball out of the infield.
Down to their final three outs, the Indians opened the top of the seventh with leadoff hitter Secor reaching base on a hit by pitch. Secor advanced to second on a groundout to the pitcher, and Sterling intentionally walked the hot-hitting Kissack. But the next two Indians grounded out to end the game.
The loss ends the career of four-year starters Kissack and catcher Taylor Carlson and two-year starter Gabbi Markison. Kissack and Carlson were the last remaining players from the Indians' 2011 Class 3A state title team. However, the future remains bright for a Marengo team that will return 11 players, including six starters.
"I couldn't have asked for a better one," Carlson said of her four-year career at Marengo.