The Sterling softball team didn’t send anyone to scout its 3A state semifinal opponent, Manteno, during the playoffs, but instead scoured the internet and called common opponents to get the low-down on the Panthers.
Golden Warriors coach Becki Edmondson and her staff were able to track down several newspaper articles, and talked with Morris coaches, a common opponent between the two teams, to get an idea of what to expect by first pitch at 12:30 p.m. today in the Class 3A state semifinals.
“We know that their pitcher is outstanding, and is kind of like Wauconda’s pitcher [Kayla Wedl],” Edmondson said. “She doesn’t walk anybody, and has good speed. She is also one of their top hitters.”
Edmondson’s gleaned information puts Panthers pitcher Brooke Stulga’s eye-popping stats into words. The senior will play for Western Illinois next season.
Stulga owns a 35-1 record this season, and has 288 strikeouts against 40 walks in 219 innings.
Her ERA of 0.70 is tops amongst the four teams in the 3A state tournament.
The scouting report on the Leathernecks recruit suggests that the Sterling batters will have to have a keen eye, and be ready to swing.
Stulga’s fastball has been clocked in the low 60s. She throws four different pitches, each with good movement, and relies on a sharp riseball, which has proven to be a pitch hitters have a hard time laying off. The consensus is that the senior is one of the top pitchers in the state.
Behind Stulga, Manteno (38-1) has lost just one game this season, a 1-0 loss to Reed-Custer on May 12. Manteno played them again 1 day later, and won 7-1.
This is the first state appearance in program history for the Panthers, unlike Sterling, which is making its second consecutive trip. The Panthers’ senior class does have experience playing at East Peoria’s EastSide Centre, as the group went to the state tournament as eighth graders.
This is the second consecutive season that Manteno is playing in Class 3A. The Panthers have had a winning season in each of the eight seasons that head coach Josh Carlile has been at the helm, but were paired in tough 2A regionals that they couldn’t get out of until moving up to 3A last season.
Despite their daunting won-loss record and Stulga’s dominance in the circle, the Panthers can be scored on, as they haven’t recorded a shutout in the postseason.
“For our girls, it’s encouraging to know that this girl has given up runs,” Edmondson said. “We haven’t been shut out in a while, and we believe that as long as we can work around their offensive threats and don’t give up walks or errors, we should be all right.”
Stulga will be one of the hardest-throwing pitchers the Golden Warriors will face all season, but fast pitching hasn’t been an issue for Sterling batters so far this postseason. Sterling handled Rock Falls’ Michaela Ward, and beat hard-throwing pitchers from Marengo and Wauconda to reach the state tournament.
“Our girls are good with speed,” Edmondson said. “They are pretty confident, and have faced speedy pitchers throughout this postseason, and we have had some quality at-bats and success.”
Like Sterling (30-8), Manteno didn’t send a body to scout Sterling, and relied on several coaches familiar with the Golden Warriors. The information Carlile and the Panthers coaches received makes them think that their team will have to be perfect today.
“Sterling sounds like a scrappy team that will make you work to get your runs,” Carlile said in a phone conversation. “They don’t make too many mistakes. I expect it to be a tight, well-played game.”
With Stulga, and team captain and catcher Sammy Beckwith, Carlile likes that his two best players can control the game and install his ever-changing gameplan for certain hitters and situations.
“They’re great at moving the defense on the fly and controlling the game,” Carlile said. “With those two, we can try to pick out a team’s weakness and exploit it.
“But with what I know about Sterling, I think it will be a pretty balanced game.”
• See how all four teams stack up in the Class 3A state tournament. Check out rosters, stats, & their roads to East Peoria on B5.