EAST PEORIA – Don’t tell the Sterling Golden Warriors, but Carly Trepanier says she came into Friday’s state semifinal at EastSide Centre in a slump.
The Manteno junior shortstop, who bats leadoff, needed two pitches from Sterling freshman Lexy Staples to make that slump a thing of the past. The second pitch landed well beyond the center-field fence.
She pretty much crushed the Golden Warriors’ dream of winning a state title with a grand slam – again to center – as part of an eight-run second inning for the Panthers.
The Warriors fought back, but the deficit was too much with Western Illinois University-bound hurler Brooke Stulga in the circle.
Manteno won 14-7 to advance to Saturday’s 3A state championship game. The Panthers will face the Glenwood Titans, who beat St. Ignatius 7-3 in the other semifinal.
“I haven’t been hitting all that well lately,” Trepanier said. “The second pitch she threw was down and outside, and I just went with it.
“We’re just such a loose team before games. We’re positive and ready to go. That helps us to get off to good starts. I hit that grand slam, but we went on to score a couple more runs that inning, too.”
Sterling (30-9), on the other hand, was tight from start. That tension led to a couple errors in the second inning that added to the Panthers’ rally. In all, Sterling had five errors, two wild pitches, and three passed balls.
Manteno (39-1), the top-ranked team in 3A, opened the second with singles by Aimee Holcomb and Jackie Beck. The bases were loaded when Staples hit Selena Schulteis.
That brought up No. 9-hitter Cheyenne Koehne, who hit a grounder to the hole between short and third.
Shortstop Karlie Mellott ranged over and backhanded the grounder. She planted her foot and threw home. The ball went high and to the backstop, allowing Holcomb to score.
“There were some nerves early in the game, but I also think we had to make some adjustments,” Mellott said. “I had to adjust to the conditions of the field and play a little farther back.”
That brought Trepanier to the plate, and she cleared the bases with her second homer in the first two innings.
Another two hits and an error brought Stulga to the plate with runners on second and third. Stulga added to the damage with a home run to center to make it 9-0.
After the first eight batters reached and scored without an out, Staples retired the next three batters.
Staples threw to two batters in the third before Sterling coach Becki Edmondson removed her for fellow freshman Cheyenne Harrington.
“Lexy has been great for us all season,” Edmondson said. “We had planned to ride her as long as we could, but they had her timed. We felt like we had to make a move.”
The first one up for Harrington, who had thrown 5 2/3 varsity innings this season, was Trepanier.
Harrington induced a ground-ball out, and retired Trepanier the next three at-bats.
In all, Harrington pitched the last 4 2/3 innings, allowing eight hits and four earned runs.
With the Manteno bats somewhat neutralized, Sterling started to cut into the lead.
Darien Bardoner got one back with an RBI triple that scored Lexy Wolfe in the second.
“She [Stulga] did so many things well,” Bardoner said. “She hit the corners really well. She had a nice changeup, and she threw it inside and outside. She threw so hard that we didn’t have to provide much of the power.
“But I think we started to make her work, and that frustrated her a little bit.”
In the fifth, Sterling trailed 13-2. The Warriors took advantage of two errors and RBIs by Nadia Trujillo and Abri Hale to avoid the 10-run rule.
Hale’s RBI was a triple to the fence in right.
Sterling scored twice more in the sixth, as Erin Stroup hit a home run with Emily McDonald on base.
“The previous time up to bat, I didn’t make very good contact,” Stroup said. “She could put that curve on the outside corner. I just wanted to stay back and make contact.”
Stulga (35-1), who had a 0.70 ERA coming into the game, allowed eight hits and seven runs (three earned), with seven strikeouts and one walk.
“She was another great pitcher,” Edmondson said. “I am so proud of the way we battled. To be down 9-0 and not give up, that’s the kind of fighters these girls are.”
Star of the game: Carly Trepanier, Manteno, 2 HR, grand slam, 5 RBIs
Key performers: Erin Stroup, Sterling, HR, 2 RBIs; Cheyenne Koehne, Manteno, 3 hits, 2B, 2 RBIs
Check it out: Watch video highlights from Friday’s semifinal at email@example.com
Up next: 3A third-place game, Sterling vs. St. Ignatius, 10 a.m. Saturday