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Good things to come Warriors’ way

Published: Saturday, June 8, 2013 9:34 p.m. CST • Updated: Saturday, June 8, 2013 10:00 p.m. CST
Caption
(Alex T. Paschal/apaschal@saukvalley.com)
Sterling shortstop Karlie Melllot fires a throw to first base during Saturday's 3A third-place game against Tinley Park at EastSide Centre in East Peoria. The Warriors lost 5-4.

EAST PEORIA – Sometime during the weekend, a Sterling softball fan asked me my thoughts on the future for the Warriors.

His thoughts were that they should be down at EastSide Centre every year for the foreseeable future.

I told him to be careful prognosticating, although there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic despite the loss of six seniors from the starting lineup.

One big building block is back in Karlie Mellott at shortstop.

During Saturday's game, I tweeted that Mellott has elevated to the point that she's one of the best shortstops that I've covered.

She's right there with the likes of Morrison's Kaitlyn Finneran and Abby Vock.

Not many teams in the state will have that sort of defensive presence or such a skilled hitter batting at the top of the lineup.

Other starters that will be back next season will be Darien Bardoner, a sturdy DH who could move into the field next season, and freshman Shannon Long, who has a deadly combination of speed and power.

There is also Gabby Sandoval, who played second base this season, but had only 11 at-bats. A good glove though is always good to have.

After that, there's a vast pool of talent that helped the sophomore team to a historic season in their own right.

You'll see familiar names like Abri Hale, who saw some time on varsity this year and was a stalwart in the middle of 2011 Little League World Series champions.

There will be more names and faces that we know and some that we don't.

Every indication is that the group below is ready to pick up where the graduating has left off.

"The senior group raised the bar and the expectations," Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. "They set a tone of hard work and heart so well that I didn't have to talk about those things. Now those things are expected, and the younger kids know it."

So that means more trophies, right?

Maybe.

But talent is just a part of the equation, and this postseason is the best representation of that.

First things first. Softball in northern Illinois is very good. There's no way around it, and I don't see that changing.

Go back to the regional championship game between Sterling and Rock Falls. Those two teams were comparable. A few bounces one way instead of the other, and the Rockets might have been the ones in East Peoria.

Unless the IHSA changes the classification rules (again), the Rockets will be back next spring with a good team, including the area's best returning pitcher in Michaela Ward.

A good Warrior team could lose to a Rocket team in 2014 at the regional, and there would be no shame in that.

Past that, it took a complete aligning of the planets to win the sectional. A five-run outburst against Marengo with two outs in the seventh kept this Warrior group alive.

There's no guarantee the opposite couldn't happen to the next group.

Finally, what makes softball great is what makes it heartbreaking.

The difference between fourth and first this weekend was two runs.

That's one bounce here and one bounce there and the Warriors would have been celebrating a state title.

In high-level softball games, the difference is slim.

So do I think the Warriors will be at EastSide Centre again soon.

I wouldn't be surprised if they were, but I'll understand if they aren't.

What I do know is whatever happens should be a lot of fun to watch.

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