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Rematch is an easy sell

ROCK FALLS – A marketing guru would have loved the way Wednesday's softball game between Rock Falls and Sterling played out. 

I mean, here you have two top-level softball teams, separated by only the Rock River, playing each other the day the IHSA released regional pairings that placed the two teams at the same regional as the two top seeds. 

By the way, you got to see almost everything that makes these two teams great. 

Sterling scored nine runs in the first three innings, using their signature speed and patient approach at the plate that drive defenses bonkers. 

You saw the defense that separates contenders from pretenders. Example: Center fielder Cassidy Gillihan's diving catch on a hard, sinking line drive by Jordan Giddings in the first inning.

"Their center fielder made some amazing plays," Rock Falls coach Kris Nunez said. "She's so fast out there." 

"There was no way I was going to let that drop," Gillihan said. "No way." 

And, Rock Falls? Yes, it lost 9-7 to its dreaded rivals. But after rallying from 9-0, the Rockets sure didn't feel too bad walking off the field. 

We saw what makes the Rockets special – POWER! There is no way of saying it in lowercase letters. 

Michaela Ward did it first, cranking her first home run off of Sterling ace Stephanie Kester in the fourth. Two were on, cutting into that 9-0 lead by three. 

Giddings – coming off a frustrating appearance in the circle where the strike zone moved so much that it must have been on wheels –followed with a three-run whammy off Priscilla Aponte in the fifth. That made it 9-7.

"We got so mad in the field with how the game was being called that I think we came to the plate wanting to take it out on the ball," Giddings said. 

After all was said and done, you don't have to be a master salesman to sell the potential May 25th meeting at the 3A Sterling Regional championship. 

But, I'll give you this caveat. We didn't see it all. 

For one, the two coaches – Nunez for Rock Falls and Rick Henderson for Sterling – had different ideas on how to approach what was essentially a non-conference regular-season game between "friends." 

Henderson put Kester out there, but stuck with his usual game plan and lifted her for Aponte after four innings. 

"I know we didn't see their No. 1, but we don't really have any other choice," Henderson said. "We just decided to throw out what we have to see what happens. If it's a regional, do we go back to Steph after Priscilla struggled? Maybe. But right now, it's more important for us to let Priscilla know that we trust her."

Nunez didn't pitch her ace – Ward. Instead, she used a combination of Julie Dodd, Giddings and Destinee Schumaker. 

Schumaker showed she can be counted on in big games after shutting down the Warrior offense the last three innings. 

Most likely, we'll see Ward when (and if) the two meet again. 

So for now, we'll wait for the third time this school year that Sterling and Rock Falls girls sports have meet one-on-one in regional play. 

Rock Falls won in volleyball. Sterling won in basketball. 

Next time, winner takes all.

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