STERLING – For four innings Tuesday, Stephanie Kester and Brittany Zawacki did all they could to limit the damage of the opposing offenses. But that all changed in the top of the fifth.
Kester looked like she was going to wriggle out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam with just a sacrifice fly, keeping her Sterling Golden Warriors in good position as they tried to remain undefeated.
But LaSalle-Peru's Haley Wren changed that with one swing of the bat. The Cavalier third baseman ripped the second pitch of her third at-bat into the left-center field gap for a two-run double, igniting a five-run frame and sending L-P to a 5-1 victory.
"I was just thinking, 'Hit the ball, hit the ball,' " Wren said of her game-changing two-bagger. "[Kester] was moving her pitches really well, and I just had to wait for one to drive. Luckily I got one, and I made good contact."
The batter before Wren, Carly Spelich had driven in the game's first run with a flyout to right. But Wren's big knock seemed to be contagious, as Brianna Zeman and Kylea Starkey followed a two-out error with RBI singles to provide Zawacki some cushion.
The big inning knocked Kester (5-1) from the game. Priscilla Aponte allowed one hit and one walk in the final 2 1/3 innings, striking out three. Aponte also provided the lone Sterling run, an RBI single to score Karlie Mellott, who reached on a three-base error to lead off the sixth.
That sixth inning looked as if it would be a big one for the Warriors (5-1, 2-1 NIB-12 West). After Aponte's single to drive in Mellott, Kester hit a blooper into short right-center. At the last second, L-P center fielder Whitney Lippert made a diving catch, then nearly doubled off Aponte at first.
Shannon Long followed with a blast to deep center, but again Lippert was there for the catch. Bailey Oetting then ripped a frozen rope down the third-base line, but Wren made the catch to end Sterling's lone threat.
"We thought we had something going there [in the sixth]," Aponte said, "but those hard hits didn't drop when we needed them to. [Zawacki] was working her pitches in and out a lot, and she did a good job of keeping us guessing."
Zawacki threw 129 pitches in a two-hitter, walking four and striking out six. She worked full counts to eight Sterling hitters, and threw five or more pitches to 15 of the 27 batters she faced. But the Warriors' patience never paid off, as Zawacki stranded runners on base in six of the seven innings.
"I quit counting how many batters she went 3-2 to; it was too many," L-P coach Mike Schmidt said. "But she had that out pitch when she needed it, and then we got her some good run support in the fifth.
"We played solid softball, but struggled to score runs at the Freeport tournament Saturday. I knew it was only a matter of time before we broke through, and once Haley got that big hit, things caught on from there."
The Cavs (6-4, 3-0) had nine of their 10 hits against Kester, but stranded five baserunners through the first three innings. Three of the five runs were earned, and Sterling's run was of the unearned variety. Wren and Zeman had two hits each for L-P, while Mellott and Jenn Rahn both reached base three times for the Warriors.
"We didn't hit the ball to put pressure on them, and it was one of those games where they caught everything we hit," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "That's a good team with a good pitcher, and we just couldn't get anything going today."
LaSalle-Peru 5, Sterling 1
Star of the game: Haley Wren, LP, 2 hits, 2B, 2 RBIs
Key performers: Brittany Zawacki, LP, 2-hitter, 6 SO, 4 BB; Priscilla Aponte, Sterling, RBI single, 2 1/3 IP of shutout relief, 1 H, 3 SO, 1 BB
Up next: Alleman at Sterling, 4:30 p.m. today