STERLING – The Golden Warriors softball team is a step closer to clinching a share of its fifth straight Northern Illinois Big 12 West title, after cruising to a 10-0 victory over the Ottawa Pirates (12-9, 4-5 NIB-12) on Tuesday.
Sterling (18-7, 8-1) batted against odds in the first inning to amass six hits and push four runs across the plate. After two straight outs, the 3 through 8 hitters had six straight base hits that led to the four runs. Five of the six hits came with two strikes.
"Just when we're almost ready to finish out the inning," Ottawa coach Jeff Davis said, "and all of sudden, they get one run. Then they get another one across the plate, and another, and it just turned out to be a pretty frustrating inning."
"We really have been flat in the first couple innings lately," Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. "We really talked to the girls about getting up and getting out there early. Generally, we do well hitting with two outs."
The second inning brought the top of the order to the plate once again for Sterling, and once again, the first two batters were retired. To Ottawa's dismay, Sterling standout Karlie Mellott started another two-out rally with a double. After catcher Lauren Fritz was hit by a pitch, Shannon Long launched her fourth home run of the season to give Sterling a 7-0 lead.
"The first thing I thought of was actually my dad," Long said, "and how we have been working on it after almost every game and practice. It just felt good to know I was helping out a little bit."
With their offensive muscles already flexed, the Warriors exercised their defensive muscles in the third and fourth innings.
After a strikeout, Pirate center fielder Skylar Connelly hit a double to the fence.
Next up was Lauren Walker, who hit a ground ball to Mellott at short. Mellott looked Connelly back to second and fired to first.
Connelly broke for third as Mellott released her throw, and Warrior first baseman Erin Stroup alertly fired to third after getting Walker out at first. The throw reached in plenty of time, as senior Darien Bardoner tagged out Connelly to turn the 6-3-5 double play.
Stroup wasn't done with the double plays.
With a runner on first and one out in the fourth, Ottawa third baseman Jill Wignes hit an infield line drive that found Stroup's glove. With the runner already on the way to second, an easy tap on first was all she needed to turn the unassisted double play.
"That was amazing," said Long, who watched the double plays from center field, "and I loved seeing it from the outfield. I got to watch everything go on, and it looked really good."
After another leadoff walk in the top of the fifth, the Warriors smelled their third double play. However, the 4-5-3 effort was just a half-step short, but they still managed to retire the next two batters to get out of the inning.
Mellott ended the game in the bottom of the fifth, as she drove in Gabby Sandoval and Stroup.
Freshman Lexy Staples got the win in the circle for Sterling, as she went five shutout innings, giving up only two hits, striking out four and walking three.
"We have played several games in the past few days, so it's good to get a quality win under our belt," Edmondson said. "If we win Thursday night, we get at least a share, so we know what we're doing on our end as far as that goes."
"I think we're pretty pumped up, and we're ready to go for the next couple of games," Long said. "Hopefully we can come out strong and play like we did today."
Star of the Game: Shannon Long, Sterling, 2-for-3, 3 R HR, 3 RBI.
Key Performer: Karlie Mellott, Sterling, 4-for-4, 2B, 2 RBI.
Up next: – Sterling at Streator 4:30 p.m. Thursday