Something was missing for Gabby Sandoval during what was a magical spring of Sterling softball in 2013.
Then a sophomore, she was the starting second baseman on a team that finished 28-5 and earned fourth place at the Class 3A state tournament in East Peoria. It was the first state softball appearance for the Golden Warriors.
What was missing for Sandoval was the chance to swing the bat. She was the flex player, meaning she played defense, but didn’t get a chance to get her hacks at the plate.
Sandoval did have 11 at-bats in JV contests, but in varsity games, she waited and watched on the bench, hoping her teammates would put some runs on the board. When the third out was made, she’d trot out to second base to do her thing.
“It was a little weird,” Sandoval said, “but I knew that my teammates would do a good job batting for me. All I really had to do was worry about defense.”
This season has been different. Sandoval has been a fixture in the lineup, both at second base and at the plate.
When the team’s top offensive threat, senior Karlie Mellott, was injured and out of the lineup earlier this season, Sandoval was inserted into the No. 2 spot in the order by first-year head coach Becki Edmondson, to take advantage of her bunting ability and speed.
When Mellott returned, Sandoval was inserted into the No. 9 hole, where she has remained.
“She can either hit, or she can bunt for a base hit,” Edmondson said. “That’s what we look for from her.”
Sandoval is batting .272 (25-for-92) with 24 runs scored, which places her sixth on the team in that category.
“I just try to get on any way I can,” she said. “The next batter is Erin [Stroup], and I know she’ll move me around.”
Sandoval’s lone extra base hit, a triple, came in a 3-1 victory against Wauconda in the Barrington Supersectional on Monday. With one out in the bottom of the third, she hit a line drive to left that Wauconda outfielder Hayley Redmann dove for and missed. The ball rolled all the way to the fence, and Sandoval was off to the races.
“I hit it, and it felt really good off my bat,” Sandoval said. “I was running to first, and I heard [first base coach] Eric [Staples] telling me, ‘Look three, look three.’ And then I see Becki waving me. I was like, ‘OK, I got this.’”
Unfortunately for Sandoval, she was erased on a double play later that inning, but she was also part of turning two double plays on defense. In the third, she delivered a perfect relay throw to Stroup at first base to complete a twin killing that started with Mellott fielding a grounder to short.
The game’s signature defensive play came in the top of the sixth inning. Sterling had led 2-0, but Wauconda cut it in half on a leadoff walk, an error and two singles.
With the bases loaded and still nobody out, the Bulldogs’ Lauren Nee hit a sharp liner just to the right of second base. Sandoval veered quickly to the right, snared the ball just off the ground, then flipped it to Mellott at second base for a tide-turning double play. When the next batter, Kayla Wedl, lined out to right, Sterling had preserved its lead.
Edmondson describes Sandoval as an “incredible” defender.
“She’s really gotten better with her range going up the middle,” Edmondson said. “Her and Karlie work really well together with that. Her hustle – she dives after plays, and runs behind first base for things. Her overall athleticism is a great asset.”
FYI: Starting second baseman for Golden Warriors. ... Batting .272 in first season of being in the lineup offensively. ... Lone extra-base hit came in Monday’s supersectional win over Wauconda. ... Also plays basketball and volleyball at Sterling.