Sterling dispatches Kaneland with patience at plate, Kester’s persistence
BELVIDERE – The Golden Warriors were doubled up, 132-65, in a very telling column of the stat sheet during Wednesday’s rout of Kaneland.
That was the pitch count for Kaneland’s Delani Vest and Sterling’s Stephanie Kester, respectively.
The teams’ approaches were night-and-day. The Golden Warriors milked virtually every at-bat, seeing an average of 3.5 pitches during their 38 plate appearances. That includes two single-pitch at-bats by Paige Lobdell, who was hit by a Delani Vest pitch her first time up and then laid down a sac bunt during Sterling’s two-run fifth.
The Knights stuck with the date they brought to the dance this season. Their lineup, sprinkled with slap-hitters, went up looking to put the first good one they saw into play, resulting in a 2.5 pitch-per-appearance clip.
“We’ve tried to be aggressive all year – put the ball in play and make the defense work,” Willis said. “I just don’t think we executed today. A lot of our bunts were too hard.”
While the Warriors have been wearing out the ball in scoring 19 runs over their last two games, they’ve also been wearing down their opponents – especially between their ears – by working the count.
“It definitely wears them down – both physically and mentally,” Sterling shortstop and leadoff batter Karlie Mellott said. “You keep throwing pitches, you’re mixing it up and throwing them your best stuff. And they’re wasting it. As a pitcher, it’s tough to overcome, especially mentally.”
Mellott speaks from experience. She was an outstanding pitcher until her time in the circle was brought to a halt by a sprained medial patellar ligament in her left knee.
But the pitcher isn’t the only member of the opposition who loses her edge during lengthy at-bats. Case and point, Mellott worked the count full in the first at-bat of the game before rapping a routine grounder to short. But Allyson O’Herron bobbled it and didn’t have a chance to throw out her counterpart.
“Karlie at the top sets the tone for us,” Henderson said. “She’s not afraid to go to two strikes. They get to see a lot of pitches over here while she’s seeing a lot of pitches, and then they talk and communicate. I love the way that works.”
Mellott says she and fellow lefty Cassidy Gillihan play the role of scouts and break down their findings the moment they’re in the dugout.
“We try to let everyone know what’s going on, movement-wise and patterns,” Mellott said. “We try to keep everybody in the know.”
Oetting got the golden scout award Wednesday, coaxing 10 pitches before drawing a walk during Sterling’s three-run seventh inning.
“As the at-bat goes on, I feel more comfortable and I see the pitches better,” Oetting said. “I can wait to get my pitch and then just drive it.”
Conversely, Kaneland didn’t get much of a chance to gauge Kester, who threw just 65 pitches in the win, 47 of them for strikes. She started just 10 of the 26 batters she faced off with a ball. And those balls, for the most part, narrowly missed the black.
Maybe it was the comfy mid-60s temperatures, but after the game it appeared Kester hadn’t broken a sweat.
“It really helps me a lot to know that I’m up in the count and to know that they’re the ones who have to worry about it, instead of me,” Kester said.
Kaneland tried to bunt for a hit five times, the first resulting in a double in the first inning on a pitching-wedge like bloop over short. But the next four were all foiled, three of them by Lobdell at third. She exploded out of her position, pounced on the ball and rifled to first, undoubtedly aided by the pace of the game and Kester’s pounding of the strike zone.
“It’s just awesome to play defense behind her,” Mellott said.