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Rockets, Warriors all tuned up for showdown

All revved up

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(Philip Marruffo/pmarruffo@saukvalley.com)
Sterling's Stephanie Kester singles Tuesday against Rochelle in a semifinal of the Class 3A Sterling Regional. Sterling plays Rock Falls in the regional championship on Saturday.

The 3A Sterling Regional softball semifinal games looked more like tuneups than challenges for the top seeds: Sterling and Rock Falls.

On Tuesday, top seed Sterling (24-3) romped to a 13-0, five-inning win over Rochelle.

Designated hitter Darien Bardoner said it best.

"We wanted to make a statement," Bardoner said. "We came out hitting and got rid of the jitters."

The next night, Rock Falls (25-4), behind a determined effort by 6-foot-1 fireballer Jordan Giddings, shut down Dixon 6-0.

The victory set up the inevitable in girls 3A sports in the Sauk Valley: a matchup between Rock Falls and Sterling at the regional level.

"It'll be a fun game, because we are both good teams and the communities will get excited," Giddings said. "The bad part is that two good teams will go in and only one will go on.

"I think we are both sectional-level teams. I just wish that it could happen that we met at the sectional instead of the regional."

It'll be the second meeting between the two softball powerhouses this season.

The first meeting came on May 8, when the Warriors held on for a 9-7 win.

Sterling jumped out to a 9-0 lead before the Rockets stormed back. Neither team showed its full hand in that contest.

"This one's going to have a lot different atmosphere," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "It won't be as laid back."

There shouldn't be too many surprises in the Warriors' lineup and strategy.

Senior Stephanie Kester will no doubt take the ball in the circle. Priscilla Aponte might work an inning or two late, if the situation allows.

They'll look to get speedsters like Karlie Mellott, Shannon Long and Cassidy Gillihan on base to put pressure on the Rocket defense. Then sluggers like Jenn Rahn, Kester, and Bailey Oetting will look to clean up the base paths.

On the Rock Falls side, there could be some intrigue.

Giddings was intimidating both in the circle and at the plate against the Duchesses.

If Giddings isn't in the circle, then it will be sophomore Michaela Ward, who the Warriors have not seen this season. She beat Sterling in a regular-season game in 2012.

Ward, however, sat out the game against Dixon with a tweaked hamstring. Her condition could swing the game in one direction or the other.

Although, the difference will likely come in the field.

"I think the difference will be defense," Rock Falls coach Kris Nunez said. "Who makes the plays, or who makes a mistake.

"It's just going to be a lot of fun. It's a great rivalry, but there's a lot of camaraderie and respect between the two teams and the coaching staffs."

When: 10 a.m. Saturday

Where: Sterling High School

The skinny: This is the third time Sterling and Rock Falls girls sports have met in a regional game this school year. Rock Falls won in volleyball, and Sterling won in basketball.

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