ROCK FALLS – Wednesday's softball game between the Rock Falls Rockets and the Sterling Golden Warriors was sort of like a college basketball game.
In that, it felt like it was played in two halves. The Warriors dominated the first half. The Rockets came alive in the second.
The final result being Sterling holding on for a 9-7 win, in what served as a preview to the possible championship game at the 3A Sterling Regional in 2 weeks.
"What made this game important is that we haven't had the chance to play very many good teams this season with the way the weather has been," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "That showed today. We got ahead, but let them back in it. They jumped back in it because they are a good team with a lot of heart."
It didn't take long for the Warriors' offense to get going. Karlie Mellott led off with a walk after falling behind 1-2 in the count against starter Julie Dodd (5-1).
Freshman Shannon Long followed with a triple to center field. A single by Stephanie Kester scored Long, putting Sterling (17-2) up 2-0 after a half-inning.
The Rockets looked ready to answer in the bottom of the inning. Morgan Mammosser led off with a double. After a sacrifice bunt by Paige Reynolds, Kester (15-2) snagged a line drive off the bat of Linsey Brown for the second out.
That brought up slugger Jordan Giddings with two outs and a runner on third. Giddings smashed the first pitch into centerfield. The ball dropped fast, but Cassidy Gillihan slid face first to make the catch.
"We came out really intense," Gillihan said. "We know that we have to make play on defense, and I try to make sure I get to where I need to be."
Sterling broke the game open with four runs in the second. The big blast was a two-run double by Karlie Mellott. Shannon Long added an RBI double.
Giddings closed out the inning, preventing more damage.
After a 1-2-3 inning by Kester, Giddings ran into trouble in the circle. She hit Priscilla Aponte to start the inning. Aponte moved to second on a wild pitch, went to third on a groundout and scored on another wild pitch.
Sterling tacked on two more runs as Giddings walked four more batters, three of them on full counts on close calls.
"Jordan was getting frustrated out there," Rock Falls coach Kris Nunez said. "Then she was angry, and that's not what you want to do to Jordan."
Down 9-0, Rock Falls staged a comeback. It started with Michaela Ward hitting a three-run home run off of Kester in the fourth inning. It was Ward's first home run.
"I was so happy for Michaela," Giddings said. "It got us back in the game. There's nothing like the first home run. I still remember my first home run."
Rock Falls closed the gap in the fifth inning as Aponte stepped into the circle. The big blow was another three-run home run, this one by Giddings.
"She was throwing changeup, curve, changeup to me," Giddings said. "I knew she was in that rhythm, and I just waited back on the pitch."
After that, neither team was able to get much going against Aponte or Rock Falls junior Destinee Schumaker.
Schumaker worked three scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out four and walking two.
"There was a lot of positives today," Nunez said. "We really didn't come into this trying to make it into a big game. Actually, I couldn't be happier with how it ended. The momentum had turned our way, and we have more to show them when we play the next time."
Star of the game: Shannon Long, Sterling, 2B, 3B, 3 RBIs
Key performers: Destinee Schumaker, Rock Falls, three scoreless inning pitch in relief; Michaela Ward, Rock Falls, 3-run home run; Cassidy Gillihan, Sterling, 2 runs scored, 2 diving catches in outfield.
Up next: Geneseo at Sterling; Oregon at Rock Falls, 4:30 p.m. today