STERLING – In a classic pitcher’s duel, it was a couple of big hits that sent Sterling to a 2-1 victory over NIB-12 West rival Geneseo on Thursday.
As always when the Golden Warriors and Maple Leafs get together, it was some scintillating softball, a nip-and-tuck affair that went down to the wire – just like Sterling’s extra-inning loss at Geneseo earlier this season.
But this time, it was the Warriors winning, as Cheyenne Harrington’s two-out double drove in Maddie Corwell from second base in the bottom of the seventh – answering the Leafs’ tying run in the top of the inning.
“Did anybody expect anything different?” Geneseo coach Pat Mitchell asked. “It was just an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel, just like before they moved the circle back. Every at-bat was precious, every defensive play was precious, and it came down to one big hit in one key spot.”
Harrington, used to setting the table for her teammates as Sterling’s leadoff hitter, took advantage of a chance to be the run producer. Corwell led off the inning with a sharp single over the right fielder’s head, then went to second on Emilie Powers’ perfect sacrifice bunt.
After Cara Alexander flew out to short right, Harrington worked a 2-0 count, then fouled off the next two pitches before smashing a line drive over the left fielder’s head for a walk-off double – just the sixth hit off Geneseo starter Jane Thomas (8-2), who struck out four and walked one.
“I had some not-so-good plate appearances earlier in the game, so I just wanted to find a way to keep the game alive for Grace [Gould],” Harrington said.
“I wanted to put the ball in play,” Harrington continued, “make the defense work, and I ended up hitting Maddie in.”
Gould, who was lurking in the on-deck circle, supplied the only other run for Sterling (11-8, 4-1). In a scoreless tie, Gould came to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the third and smoked a 1-1 pitch on a frozen rope, laser shot over the left-field fence for a solo home run.
“It felt really good off the bat,” said Gould of her third homer of the season, “but I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay high enough to get over the fence. Everything just seemed to go our way today, and we kept the momentum with Jayme’s pitching and by not making mistakes on defense.”
Jayme Eilers (4-2) was stellar in the circle for Sterling, striking out 10 with just one walk. She scattered six hits, and got out of both jams she faced in the final two frames.
In the top of the sixth, Eilers gave up a leadoff single to Geneseo’s Breanna Jones, who then stole second. But Eilers struck out the top two hitters in the Leafs lineup looking, then got a flyout to left to keep Sterling’s lead at 1-0.
In the seventh, Maddie Mackey led off with a double, then Allison Yager followed with one-out single to deep left field to tie the game at 1-1.
“This team never quits, and plays all-out for the whole 21 outs,” Mitchell said. “We just couldn’t get that big hit when we needed it, and Sterling did.”
Eilers then walked Anna McAvoy, and the runners moved up to second and third on a wild pitch. But with the go-ahead run 60 feet away, Eilers struck out Geneseo’s Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to escape with the score still tied.
“Her rise ball was really working well, and we went to that a lot,” Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. “She does such a good job moving the ball all over the place and mixing her speeds, and our defense was very strong behind her again.”
That included three popouts to third baseman Gretchen Gould in front of the Sterling dugout, all three of which looked to be out of play before the wind pushed them back in. But the biggest tone-setter came from center fielder Hannah Kessler, who threw out Yager trying to stretch a shot to the fence in left-center into a double to lead off the fifth inning.
“Close games are so much fun to play in, and we really came up big today,” Harrington said. “We always know Jayme is going to give us a great chance to win, and our defense really kept us going until our bats came through in the end.”
Sterling 2, Geneseo 1
Star of the game: Cheyenne Harrtington, Sterling, 2-for-4, 2 2Bs, game-winning RBI
Key performers: Grace Gould, Sterling, solo HR; Jayme Eilers, Sterling, complete-game win, 1 ER, 6 H, 10 Ks, 1 BB; Jane Thomas, Geneseo, 6 2/3 IP, 2 ER, 6 H, 4 Ks, 1 BB; Allison Yager, Geneseo, 2-for-3, RBI
Up next: Sterling at Stillman Valley, 4:30 p.m. today