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Senior powers Sterling to Sectional final win

MARENGO – Step aside, Wheaties.

There is a new breakfast of champions.

"I just woke up and had some chocolate donuts," Sterling senior Darien Bardoner said.

Bardoner had not hit a home run in a game all season, but hit two in her final two at-bats in a 6-2 win over Marengo during the 3A Marengo Sectional final game.

It was the second time in consecutive seasons that Sterling ended Marengo's season in the sectional final game.

During Friday's practice, Bardoner consistently made good contact with the ball, and even put two balls over the fence during batting practice. Golden Warriors coach Becki Edmondson noticed that the senior was locked in, and played a hunch and moved Bardoner up in the lineup from the No. 8 spot, to No. 7 for Saturday's game.

It proved to be a smart decision as Bardoner's first home run, a one-out solo shot over the left-center field fence in the bottom of the fifth inning, drew Sterling within 2-1. Her first homer of the season sparked a five-run fifth that gave the Warriors the lead for good.

"I was just thinking about a solid line drive, and wanted to make good contact because we couldn't get that so far," Bardoner said. "It was low and outside, and I just threw my hands out there."

Marengo (28-11) broke a scoreless tie in the top half of the fifth when No. 3-hitter Abby Kissack drilled a hanging curveball over the center-field fence off Warriors pitcher Lexy Staples to put the Indians up 2-0.

Staples (29-8) wanted the ball on the inner half of the plate to the lefty, Kissack, but the ball didn't move inside.

"It was a mistake," Staples said.

The 2-0 lead felt large as Indians starter Mariah Dionne (21-5) had baffled the Sterling batters through the first four innings. The Warriors (29-8) made good swings and were able to time the pitches, but couldn't make solid contact as Dionne kept the ball high and inside, inducing five shallow fly-ball outs, and just one ground ball to go along with three strikeouts.

"I was so nervous after that home run," Staples said. "I was really down after that. I just kept thinking, 'It's all me. It's all on me,' but my team picked me up right away."

Abri Hale led off the bottom half of the fifth with a popout to Dionne, before Bardoner hit her first home run of the season.

Emily McDonald reached on a single, and No. 9-hitter Gabby Sandoval sacrificed her over to second with a bunt, to reach the top of the order which began the crucial two-out rally.

Erin Stroup reached on a walk, and Shannon Long gave Sterling its first lead of the game with a two-run double to left center, to go up 3-2. The Indians made a pitching change and brought in Kissack, normally used as the team's closer, who intentionally walked Karlie Mellott.

It was the second time Mellott was walked intentionally in the game, as the Indians opted to pitch to Nadia Trujillo instead. It was also the first and second time of the season that Mellott, one of the area's top hitters, was walked in order to get to Trujillo.

"I thought there would have been a few more times in the year that it would have happened," Edmondson said. "But we know we can't rely on the same batters to come through all the time.

"I told [Trujillo], 'They're walking her to get to you. That should offend you.' "

Trujillo made the Indians pay with a two-run triple down the right-field line to put the Warriors up 5-2.

"It was scary," Trujillo said. "I was under a lot of pressure. I just knew that I needed to get a solid hit in the gap to keep the rally going somehow and not let anyone down."

Pitching with a lead, Staples needed just eight pitches to mow down the bottom third of Marengo's order in the sixth. Bardoner had a part in all three outs as Staples induced a popup to her at third, and she fielded two more ground balls to end the inning.

Edmondson knew that the left side of the defense was going to be tested, as the gameplan was to pitch to the inner half of the plate.

"We knew that if [the pitches] are high on the outside corner, Lexy provides enough power for [the Marengo hitters] to hit it out of here," Edmondson said. "So our strategy was inside, inside, inside."

The left side proved strong as the Indians pulled a lot of pitches. McDonald, the Warriors left fielder, was tested early in the top of the first when she threw out Leah Secor at the plate to end the inning.

"Those two held their own out there," Edmondson said.

It was in the bottom of the sixth that Bardoner hit her second home run of the game, a one-out solo blast to straight-away center to give the Warriors a 6-2 lead, one Staples would hold.

With the win, Sterling moves on to the 3A Barrington Supersectional on Monday and will face Wauconda – a 1-0 extra-inning winner over Grayslake Central – at 4:30 p.m.

Star of the game: Darien Bardoner, Sterling, 2-for-3, 2 home runs, 2 RBIs

Key performers: Nadia Trujillo, Sterling, 1-for-3, triple, 2 RBIs; Shannon Long, 1-for-1, double, 2 RBIs; Abby Kissack, Marengo, 1-for-3, home run, 2 RBIs

Up next: 3A Barrington Supersectional, Sterling vs. Wauconda, 4:30 p.m. today

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