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Staples, Sterling shake off semifinal loss to claim third place

BRAND NEW DAY

Published: Monday, June 16, 2014 12:19 a.m. CST • Updated: Monday, June 16, 2014 12:39 a.m. CST
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling softball players check out their third-place trophy Saturday morning at EastSide Centre in East Peoria. The Golden Warriors achieved the highest finish in program history with a 4-0 victory over St. Ignatius in the Class 3A third-place game.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Gabby Sandoval (left) and Karlie Mellott smile as they greet Lauren Fritz (20) and Darien Bardoner (behind Fritz) after beating St. Ignatius 4-0 on Saturday to taker third place at the 3A state softball tournament in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Lexy Staples (7), Lexy Wolfe (8), Erin Stroup (behind trophy) and Shannon Long (10) await the awarding of the 3A third-place trophy after a 4-0 win over St. Ignatius on Saturday in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling eyes the third- and fourth-place trophies Saturday morning at EastSide Centre in East Peoria. A year after finishing fourth in Class 3A, the Golden Warriors took third over the weekend.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Lexy Staples fires a pitch Saturday against St. Ignatius.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling pitcher Lexy Staples fires a pitch during her team's victory over St. Ignatius on Saturday in the 3A third-place game at EastSide Centre.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Emily McDonald avoids the tag and legs out an infield single during her team's 4-0 victory over St. Ignatius on Saturday in the 3A third-place game.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Abri Hale takes a turn at holding the team's third-place trophy following Sterling's 4-0 victory over St. Ignatius on Saturday in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling senior Karlie Mellott is all smiles while sharing a hug with coach Becki Edmondson after being given her third-place medal Saturday morning in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Hannah Escamilla prepares to take off from third base Saturday against St. Ignatius.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Gabrielle Garza watches through her helmet's facemask Saturday during the 3A third-place game in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Mackenzie Barnhart tries to fire up her team from the dugout during the Golden Warriors' victory Saturday in the Class 3A third-place game at EastSide Centre.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling pitcher Lexy Staples pauses on the mound during the 3A third-place game against St. Ignatius on Saturday in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterlings Abri Hale eyes a St. Ignatius pitch during the Golden Warriors' victory Saturday in the 3A third-place game.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Karlie Mellott follows the flightpath of the softball during Saturday's 3A third-place game in East Peoria.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling's Shannon Long crosses first base during the Golden Warriors' 4-0 win over St. Ignatius on Saturday in the 3A third-place game at EastSide Centre.
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(Ryan Gaines)
Sterling third baseman Darien Bardoner looks a runner back at second base after fielding a ground ball during Saturday's 4-0 victory over St. Ignatius in the 3A third-place game in East Peoria.

EAST PEORIA – The program for the 3A state softball tournament lists Kathryn Gallagher at 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

When she walked to the plate with the bases loaded in the second inning of Saturday’s 3A state third-place game, the St. Ignatius senior slugger, who is committed to the University of Illinois, might as well have been Andre the Giant.

Her shadow stretched toward the circle, where the confidence of Sterling freshman Lexy Staples probably momentarily wavered, considering a day earlier she had suffered through her worst outing as a Golden Warrior.

But it only wavered slightly, and Gallagher might as well have been swinging a toothpick, because she wasn’t going to get a hit. And she didn’t.

Staples struck her out with some high heat, St. Ignatius didn’t score in the second – or in any other inning for that matter – and Sterling claimed the third-place trophy with a 4-0 win at EastSide Centre.

“That was such a huge moment,” Staples said. “I knew she was a great hitter, and considering what happened yesterday... if she gets a hit, probably at least two runs score, and then we would be behind again.”

Gallagher, who had 19 home runs coming into the game, is the Wolfpack’s leadoff hitter, and the Warriors chose to intentionally walk her to start the game.

Considering a day earlier that Manteno’s Carly Trepanier started the semifinal with a home run off Staples, Sterling coach Becki Edmondson did not want to see a repeat performance.

“It was sort of a joke we shared before the game,” Edmondson said. “It seems like Lexy starts every game with a walk, so we were just making it easier on her. But we really didn’t want to start the same way as [Friday].”

After a scoreless top of the first, Sterling (31-9) went to work against St. Ignatius pitcher Maura Lynch (19-9).

Erin Stroup was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and Shannon Long sacrificed her over to second. Senior Karlie Mellott then added to her team record in doubles with her 18th of the season.

This one went to the fence in left-center, and scored Stroup.

“It was nice to get a good hit on the ball,” Mellott said. “I had made some adjustments to my swing, and I just kind of went with it. I think getting a lead helped us relax.”

St. Ignatius (28-14) appeared ready to strike back in the second, after Tess Russell and Hannah Contreras had back-to-back singles to start the inning.

They were moved up 60 feet by a bunt by Cate Lenti. Staples struck out Elyse Wisniewski before walking Keleigh O’Neill. That brought up Gallagher for a key out of the game.

“I knew that Lexy could blow it past her,” Sterling catcher Lauren Fritz said. “Yesterday, Lexy was more nervous than she usually is. Today, I knew she could get it past her. She just had to believe in her stuff and hit her spots, and that’s what she did.”

Staples (31-9) went seven shutout innings, giving up six hits, striking out six, and walking three. Two of the walks were intentional to Gallagher.

That came a day after Staples gave up 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings. She allowed eight hits in the eventual 14-7 loss to Manteno.

“My coaches told me to relax and try to forget about what happened yesterday,” Staples said. “I knew that I was better than that. I just had to get back to throwing strikes and depending on my defense.”

The score remained 1-0 until the fifth inning, when Shannon Long drove in pinch runner Hannah Escamilla with a single.

Fritz then smashed a double to start the sixth inning.

“I had just missed a couple times earlier in the game,” Fritz said. “Coach [Ed] Long told me I needed to get the bat head out there faster. I did on that hit, and I was really happy.

“It took time for us to get going today, because she was throwing slower than what we saw against Manteno.”

Lexy Wolfe came in to run. Abri Hale followed with a single to center.

Gallagher, in center, tried to throw out Wolfe at home, but she overthrew the catcher, which allowed Hale to get all the way to third.

A sacrifice fly by Darien Bardoner rounded out the scoring for Sterling.

Softball

Class 3A state third-place

Sterling 4, St. Ignatius 0

Star of the game: Lexy Staples, Sterling, 7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 3 BB

Key performers: Abri Hale, Sterling, 1 H, 1 RBI, 1 run; Karlie Mellott, Sterling, 2B, RBI

Now playing: Check out video highlights from Saturday’s game at saukvalleysports.com.

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