MARENGO – Earlier this season, LaSalle-Peru coach Mike Schmidt was marveling about the clutch hitting of the Sterling Golden Warriors.
Burlington Central coach Wade Maisto found out firsthand Tuesday afternoon what Schmidt was talking about. Five of the Warriors' eight runs came with two outs in their 8-7, eight-inning win over the Rockets.
"The LP coach said, 'You always get those two-out hits, I wish I could get that,'" Sterling coach Becki Edmondson recalled. "That's just a great sign of maturity and mental toughness, and we seem to have a lot of that right now.
"They just don't seem to feel any pressure," Edmondson added, shaking her head with a wry smile. "Sometimes, it's good to be so young that you're not worried about anything."
See, two-out hitting is what separates sectional finalists from teams that don't make it out of regionals ... and the Warriors seem to flourish with their backs against the wall.
"We're really good at coming through in the clutch," Sterling junior Lauren Fritz said. "It's all about mental and physical toughness, and we just have a solid lineup with so many girls on this team who can pick each other up with big hits."
There's a thin line between success and failure in crucial situations, especially in a sport where success at the plate is usually measured in the 30-percent range.
But, for whatever reason, this young group of Warriors seems to thrive under pressure. The more pressure-packed the situation, the more likely, it seems, that Sterling will find a way to get the job done.
"When I'm on base and there's two outs, I'm more worried about myself than whoever's hitting," sophomore Erin Stroup said. "I know my teammates are going to put the ball in play, and there's a better chance that I'm going to make an out than they are."
Not that the Warriors are fearless in those situations. It's just that they're far too young to get any gray hairs from them – and they're great at turning that fear into positive action.
"I told my teammates in the dugout [in the eighth inning] that I was going to pass out, I was so nervous," senior Darien Bardoner said. "It wasn't that I didn't have faith and trust in my teammates; I was just hyperventilating from the excitement.
"Then Abri [Hale] drove in the winning run, and it was so much adrenaline, I don't know what we were all doing. We were just jumping and hugging and celebrating at home plate."
Not that Bardoner had anything to worry about when Hale came up and knocked in Nadia Trujillo with the game-winning triple.
After all, there were two outs.
That meant whichever Warrior who happened to be at the plate right then and there was money.