STERLING – Becki Edmondson walked slowly toward the dugout from right field, shaking her head.
"Darn it," the Sterling softball coach said, after the Golden Warriors let a victory against the NIB-12 West rival Geneseo slip from their fingers on a soggy day in Sterling.
The Maple Leafs plated the winning run in a 7-6, nine inning victory as Angie Schaumburg tagged from third to score after Sterling's Emily McDonald made a diving catch in left field on a looping fly ball by Sierra Ricketts.
"We knew coming in what kind of history Geneseo's program has," Edmondson said. "W e knew that they would never give up, and they didn't today. We didn't get a couple key hits and bobbled a couple balls today, and that opened the door for them."
Geneseo pitcher Jena Reddig did the rest after getting the lead in the top of the ninth. She got Abri Hale and Shannon Long to pop out before inducing a ground-ball out by Lauren Fritz to end the game.
"Our biggest problem has been putting too much pressure on ourselves this season," Reddig said. "When we get down, we get tense. If we can take that pressure off, we play loose."
Sterling (12-5, 4-1) put the pressure on early. Senior Karlie Mellott, SVM's defending player of the year, slugged the second pitch from Reddig over the right-field fence. It was Mellott's third home run of the season.
"She threw a changeup, and that kind of surprised me," Mellott said. "I just tried to stay back on it and drive the ball."
Mellott put Sterlng up 2-0 in the second with an RBI single that scored McDonald. The Warriors tacked on another on a fielding error by Geneseo (15-5, 4-1).
"The thing about Karlie is that she can make it look so easy," Edmondson said. "That makes everyone else so much more relaxed. She leads off with a home run and that takes the pressure off everyone else. It also takes the pressure of our pitcher, because she knows she doesn't have to be perfect because she has the lead."
Sterling's offense was comfortable, finishing with 15 hits. The big negative being that they left runners on second and third in the fourth, seventh and eighth innings.
"Hitting with runners in scoring position has been a problem all season," Mellott said. "But there were a lot of positives today. We hit the ball really hard against a really good pitcher."
Sterling freshman Lexy Staples (12-5) cruised until the third inning when a pair of walks and a single put her in a bad spot. Darian Gillette made her pay by crushing a 1-0 pitch over the center-field fence for a grand slam.
"The first time we saw her [Staples], we didn't do anything against her," Reddig said. "The first time through the lineup we didn't do much either, but we started to get more patient at the plate."
A five-hit fourth inning plated three runs for the Warriors. Nadia Trujillo, Erin Stroup and Hale each had RBI hits.
A pair of fielding mistakes in the sixth allowed two runs to score for Geneseo, which tied the score at six. Staples retired the next seven batters until the start of the ninth, when she got into trouble with a leadoff walk that was followed by a double.
Staples allowed seven hits while striking out six and walking three. Reddig allowed 15 hits with eight strikeouts and one walk.
Sterling plays another top-tier NIB-12 West team today at LaSalle-Peru.
"We told the girls that we can't hang our heads from this one," Edmondson said." We have a big game against LaSalle-Peru, and we play against a good Moline team on Thursday. We have to learn from this and move on."
Star of the game; Darian Gillette, Geneseo, grand slam
Key performers: Karlie Mellott, Sterling, 3 hits, HR, 2 RBI, 2 runs; Gabby Sandoval, Sterling, 2 hits, 2 runs
Up next: Sterling at LaSalle-Peru, 4:30 p.m. today