STERLING – On a day when softballs were flying all over the yard, a simple communication error was as big a play as any.
The Downers Grove South Mustangs had that lapse Saturday, and it cost them dearly in an 11-10 nonconference loss to the Sterling Golden Warriors.
The teams combined for 23 hits, but the one that was taken off the board proved to be crucial. South was down 9-5 entering the fifth inning, but a 3-run homer from Caitlyn Daly, the first batter faced by Sterling reliever Priscilla Aponte, narrowed the gap to 9-8.
Aponte hit the next batter, Crystal Loehman, and South manager Ron Havelka sent up a pinch-hitter, Kaley Smith, to bat. Smith rapped a single up the middle to apparently put runners at first and second.
Then the fun began.
Havelka thought he got word to the home plate umpire about the switch, then talked to Smith about the at-bat. After Smith reached first, Sterling coach Rick Henderson said he was unaware Smith entered the game.
After the umpires conversed, an out was issued, Loehman went back to first, and the Mustangs went quietly the rest of the inning. Sterling’s 9-8 lead was preserved, and a potential big inning by South was snuffed out.
“I’ve got to make sure the ump knows,” Havelka said. “Normally I would have caught it, but I was talking to my player telling her what to do. That’s never happened to me before. In 21 years here, that’s a first.”
For Henderson, it was just something that happens to a manager over the course of a season.
“The other day we played Dixon, and I had three numbers wrong to start the whole game off,” Henderson said, “but luckily one of my coaches said, ‘Hey bonehead, tell that umpire we’ve got to change some numbers before we step into the box.’ It happens.”
Ahead 9-8 entering the bottom of the fifth, Sterling (5-0) gave itself some breathing room. Jennifer Rahn smacked a solo homer, then back-to-back doubles from Cassidy Gillihan and Karlie Mellott tacked on another run.
The cushion was crucial. In the top of the seventh, Loehman connected on a two-run homer to bring her team within 11-10. Smith, now legally into the game, followed with a base hit, but the next two batters struck out and popped out to end a wild, windy affair.
“When you see how they hit, I don’t think it was a small-ball day,” Henderson said, “so I’m glad we brought our hitting shoes. It was nice to see. This was the first game we really hit up and down the lineup. The subs came in and hit the ball, and even our outs, I thought we were making good contact.”
Mellott, Aponte, Rahn, Gillihan and Shannon Long each had two hits for Sterling.
Sterling found itself down 5-1 after 2½ innings, but fought back with six runs in the bottom of the third. Two-run singles by Stephanie Kester and Aponte highlighted the uprising.
Kester (5-0) got the win despite being roughed up for seven runs (five earned) and seven hits in four innings. Aponte was touched for three runs and four hits in three innings.
“Honestly, it was really nice to face a team that challenges us,” Mellott said. “I think we rose up the occasion. You saw kids that maybe struggled a couple of days ago, but that’s OK. We all hit today, and that was nice to see.”
Daly and Loehman both homered and drove in three runs for South, while Jesse Andree was 4-for-4 with a double and three runs scored.
Star of the game: Priscilla Aponte, Sterling, 2-for-2, 2B, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB
Key performers: Karlie Mellott, Sterling, 2-for-2, 2 2B, 2 R, 2 BB; Jesse Andree, Downers Grove South, 4-for-4, 2B, 3 R
Up next: LaSalle-Peru at Sterling, 4:30 p.m. Tuesday