STERLING – On Monday, the Sterling softball team took batting practice in advance of this week's regional.
On Tuesday, it took batting practice again. This time, it was in an actual game.
The Golden Warriors smashed the ball to all corners of the field in their regional-opening 13-0, five-inning affair against Rochelle.
Sterling will play the winner of today's semifinal between Dixon and Rock Falls in the 3A Sterling Regional championship at 11 a.m. Saturday.
"We were really hitting the ball well in practice yesterday, and I was hoping it would carry over," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "When they are hitting like that, it really makes it seem easy."
Sterling finished with 13 hits, eight of them for extra bases, including six doubles, a triple and a home run. Seven of the nine batters in the lineup had at least one hit. The two Warriors without hits were Shannon Long and Cassidy Gillihan.
Long walked three times, and Gillihan walked twice.
"We wanted to set the tone," Sterling's Darien Bardoner said. "It was really important for us to get up early in the first three innings. You always have those jitters at the start of regionals, and all those runs gave us some confidence."
After Rochelle stranded runners at second and third in the top of the first against Stephanie Kester, Sterling went to work at the plate.
Karlie Mellott opened the inning with a rare strikeout looking. After that, the next six Warriors all reached base.
Long walked and stole second before scoring on a single by Kester. McKenna Pearson came in as the courtesy runner for Kester.
Priscilla Aponte singled, and then Pearson scored on an error on a Jenn Rahn groundball.
Bailey Oetting then drove in two runs as her smash hit bounced off the top of the glove of a leaping Christina Williams at shortstop. Bardoner gave Sterling a 5-0 lead with an RBI single.
"After Rochelle got a few runners on base, I think it woke us up a little bit," Henderson said. "We knew it was going to be a game. Getting five runs right away made sure we had control of the game."
Sterling did the rest of its scoring during an eight-run third inning against new pitcher Brooke Miller.
Oetting led off with a double, and her courtesy runner, Abri Hale, scored on a triple by Bardoner. Trujillo, Mellott, Long, Kester and Aponte each had RBI hits before Jenn Rahn delivered the loudest blow of the inning.
The 6-foot-1 senior who will join the University of Iowa rowing team next fall crushed a 1-0 pitch over the right-field fence with a runner on. By the time the damage was all done, Sterling led 13-0.
Kester (21-3) worked an efficient four innings, allowing four hits with five strikeouts and no walks, before giving way to Aponte in the fifth.
Bardoner finished a home run shy of the cycle after collecting a double in the fourth.
"I bet she didn't even know she was that close to the cycle," Henderson said. "She's been getting hot, and that's so rewarding to see. She's put in a lot of extra time, and she's always the last here working on things."
Star of the game: Darien Bardoner, Sterling, 3 hits, 2B, 3B, 2 RBI
Key performers: Bailey Oetting, Sterling, 2 hits, 2 2B, 2 RBI; Stephanie Kester, Sterling, winning pitcher, also 3 hits, 2B, 2 RBI
Up next: 3A Sterling Regional championship – Sterling vs. Dixon/Rock Falls, 11 a.m. Saturday