STERLING – If the gray clouds and a menacing cold wind blowing weren't gloomy enough, the opening innings between Sterling and Sycamore were.
Through five innings, the two teams combined for two runs and five hits. But as the temperatures dropped, the offenses heated up, and the Warriors claimed a 4-3 walk-off victory.
Delivering the big hit was Abri Hale, as she laced a single to score Shannon Long in the bottom of the seventh.
Lexy Staples pitched the complete game for Sterling (4-0) and started off hot. She got help both offensively and defensively.
Through five innings, the Warriors clung to a 2-0 lead. Both runs were opportune and manufactured.
"I don't think travel really bothered the kids," said Spartans coach Jill Carpenter, who had to make the trip to Sterling because of the condition of the field in Sycamore is not playable yet. "We got here a little late, but we got here, got warm, and we just wanted to play. Just being able to play and having these fields ready is remarkable. We were willing to make the trip, and it was probably warmer here than in Sycamore."
In the blink of an eye, Sycamore (0-1) changed the course of the game in the top of the sixth inning. A walk was followed by two fielder's choices. With two outs and a 1-2 count, Sycamore's Jasmyne Taylor connected on a bomb to tie it at 2.
"At the start I was fine," said Staples. "I was really confident from the last couple of games, but they started to tee off on me, and I couldn't do anything about it. I have great defense behind me, and that's amazing to have as a pitcher, knowing I can throw strikes and have them behind me. They responded great and that helped calm me down."
The Warriors responded quickly. After a two-out walk, junior Gabby Sandoval stepped to the plate. She rifled a line drive up the middle, which took a hop and got past Spartan center fielder Taylor Jones. This allowed the runner to score from first and restored the lead to Sterling at 3-2.
In the next inning, Sycamore's Taylor Zak worked into a full count. Zak hit a high pop-up to left-center field. As the hangtime count added up, so did the suspense. It all ended when the ball landed on the other side of the fence.
"We didn't want to let them stay in the game," Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. "We were hoping that we would take advantage of baserunners that were on and move those runners over. We were really struggling with that. So, we just tried to get good at-bats, take good swings, be smart at the plate."
Warrior sophomore Shannon Long hit a slow grounder with one out in the seventh that was mishandled to allow her to reach first. A stolen base and a sacrifice bunt moved Long over to third with two outs.
Hale was next at the dish and she delivered. With a 1-1 count, she ripped a grounder right between third and short. Long took off for home, and the gounder nicked a diving Taylor Aasen and didn't allow her shortstop Lyndsey Coddington to make a play.
"We were happy to see that," Edmondson said. "Any time you are down, and it's cold out, and things hadn't been going our way, the momentum was on the other side. Our girls have really good game smarts, they have been in enough games, and they don't panic when they get down. Sometimes it is good, and sometimes it is not good.
"We just want to get a sense of urgency in there so we don't get into these kind of situations."