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Softball: Tough defense and Stroup triples keep Warriors undefeated in conference

Sterling's Erin Stroup tags out Streator's Brenna McCann on a pickoff play Monday. The Warriors won the NIB-12 West game 3-0.
Sterling's Erin Stroup tags out Streator's Brenna McCann on a pickoff play Monday. The Warriors won the NIB-12 West game 3-0.

STERLING – The Sterling Golden Warriors stayed undefeated in conference play Monday after grinding out a 3-0 victory over conference foe Streator (8-7, 1-2 NIB-12). 

Sterling (11-3, 3-0) scored runs in their first and last at bats, and two of those runs were scored by sophomore Erin Stroup.

The leadoff hitter for the Warriors in absence of injured senior Karlie Mellott, Stroup recorded her first two triples of the year and eventually scored on each of them. 

In her first at bat, Stroup rocketed a line drive that barely squeaked by the glove of Streators' center fielder and ended up against the fence in right center.

She easily reached third standing up and scored on a passed ball on the next pitch to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead early on. 

"Coming in without Karlie is hard because she's on a high pedistal," Stroup said. "Coming in we knew it would be difficult, but I led off for my ASA team so I took that experience and brought it here."

A pitching duel then ensued, as Sterling pitcher Lexy Staples and Streator pitcher Mollie Benner minimized the hits, runners, and ultimately runs. Both pitchers got help from strong defenses. 

Whether it was Sterling junior left fielder Emily McDonald crashing into the fence to catch a foul ball, catcher Lauren Fritz picking off a runner at first, or center fielder Shannon Long ranging to her left to get her white uniform dirty by laying out to snag a ball just before it dropped to the grass, the Warriors made plays in the field to prevent damage on the scoreboard. 

"They're great," said Staples, who threw a perfect game against Rochelle on Saturday. "There was stress on me, but I jut think about my defense, and my defense is good so it's relaxing. It makes me a lot more comfortable as a pitcher knowing that I can throw strikes. If they hit it, I know my defense has my back and it makes a world of a difference."

Benner and her Bulldogs also made all the plays defensively, as she allowed one base runner until the bottom of the sixth inning. The senior pitcher got a lot of looking strikes on a changeup that just barely hit the strike zone. 

"Benner pitched really well," Streator coach Kelly Coons said. "She was htting her spots. I think both pitchers really kept the hitters off balance and hitting spots well. Sterling's outfielders made a couple of really nice catches to rob us of a couple hits."

The Warriors took that 1-0 lead into the sixth inning. 

Stroup took a strike before finally figuring out the puzzle, as she smacked a Benner changeup into the right-center gap to start the sixth and ended up in a similar spot as her first inning triple against the fence. Just like before, she was on third with a lead-off triple. 

"Today, I adjusted and waited for the ball because I'm not the best at hitting slow pitching," Stroup said. "All I had to do was wait, and then I made good contact."

After Nadia Trujillo drew a walk, Stroup was batted in on a single by Fritz, that also moved Trujillo over to third. McDonald then hit a sacrifice fly on a 0-2 pitch to score Trujillo.

"Both teams hit the ball very hard," Coons said. "Our defense played really well too, Sterling just took advantage of things, and they were able to score some runs. Kudos to them. It was a very well played ball game."

Star of the game: Erin Stroup, Sterling, 3-3 with two 3B, 2 R

Key performers: Mollie Benner, Streator, 6 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 5 K, 1 BB. Lexy Staples, Sterling, 7 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 3 K, 3 BB

Up next: Sterling at Rock Island, 4:30 p.m. Thursday

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