EAST PEORIA – Shannon Long took the hardest hit during Friday's semifinal, and the freshman outfielder delivered the most productive hit of the state weekend for the Golden Warriors during Saturday's third-place game loss to Tinley Park.
Long came to the plate with two on and two out in the fifth inning Saturday and with the score tied at two.
Moments earlier, speedy senior Cassidy Gillihan had tied the score with an expert placement of a bunt that drifted past the pitcher and third baseman and into an area vacated by the shortstop who had rotated to cover third.
The defensive confusion allowed Darien Bardoner to score from second base to tie the score.
Now it was Long's turn to deliver, something the Warriors struggled with all weekend. They left 15 runners on base in two games, with 11 of those runners being in scoring position.
Long came through against Tinley Park, knocking a single that scored two runs.
"She threw a changeup, and I stayed back on it," Long said. "It felt great because we needed the runs. It felt like all the momentum was with us then."
"That was a great hit by Shannon," senior Stephanie Kester said. "She had struggled a little bit, but we knew she could do it."
Unfortunately, Sterling followed that with two walks and then left the bags juiced for the third time during the weekend.
After Friday's game, it wasn't even a sure thing that she would be in the lineup.
In the third inning of the semifinal, Long took an Alexis Silkwood fastball off the elbow.
Long and the Sterling coaching staff spent Friday night watching the elbow swell up.
"We kept a pretty close eye on it," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "It looked pretty bad. We had two different trainers look at it, and both said they didn't think she would hurt it more by playing. It just depended on her pain threshold.
"When she heard that, she was going to play."
Long also had an infield single and a stolen base in the loss on Saturday. The injured elbow didn't slow her down.
"It swelled up a lot, but it was better this morning," Long said. "I didn't even really notice it, and now it just has a few bruises."