STERLING – For six innings, Sterling experienced nothing but frustration against Ottawa ace pitcher Sloan Gayan.
Thanks to some seventh-inning wildness from the Kentucky recruit, however, that frustration turned to jubilation for the Golden Warriors.
Gretchen Gould’s bases-loaded single capped off a three-run rally and lifted Sterling to a 3-2 victory against the Pirates in a key Northern Illinois Big 12 contest on Monday at the SHS Softball Complex.
“Ottawa is usually one of the toughest teams in our conference, and we knew we had to knock them off in the first game to maybe claim that conference title at the end of the season,” Gould said. “This was huge.”
Sterling (14-1, 3-0) had just one hit – a one-out double by Olivia Edmondson in the fourth – through six innings against Gayan. At that point, she had struck out 11 batters, walked two and hit one, but trouble would soon be brewing in the seventh.
Edmondson led off by getting nicked in the foot with a pitch, but Gayan struck out the next two batters, Genea Garza and Hannah Jacoby, to put the Pirates (10-2, 1-1) on the verge of victory.
The next batter, Meghan Sechrest, hit a short pop up down the third base line that traveled about 20 feet in the air. Ottawa third baseman Abi Claus dove for it, but had the ball glance off her glove for Sterling’s second hit.
That brought up the No. 9 hitter in the Warriors’ lineup, Amayiah Hernandez, who was plunked in the left thigh by Gayan to load the bases.
The next batter, Riley Dittmar, had struck out her first three times against Gayan. The fourth time was the charm as she delivered a clean single up the middle to score Sterling’s first run.
With the bases still loaded, Grace Gould tied the game by getting hit by Gayan on 3-2 pitch. Gayan admitted to being a bit tired after pitching all three games in an event at Marengo on Saturday.
“I’m still sore from this weekend, so I got a little tight,” Gayan said. “The nerves were going too.”
The bags were still full when Sterling’s top offensive player, Gretchen Gould, came up with the game on the line. Gretchen, who had flown out to deep right field to end the third inning, ended it with a first-pitch single just to the right of second base.
Gayan had thrown mostly heat to the Warriors, but got too much of the plate on a change-up.
“I was trying to go inside on that one, but it kept going outside,” Gayan said. “She extended on it.”
“It was different than the rest of her pitches,” Gretchen Gould said. “I sat on it a little longer and didn’t try to do too much with it. I just wanted us to score any way possible.”
Ottawa scored an unearned run in the first inning on a throwing error by Edmondson, then made it 2-0 in the fifth inning on a two-out home run by Jenna Nink. Overall, however, the Pirates were held in check by Sterling starter Jayme Eilers.
A Western Carolina recruit, Eilers (13-0) allowed one earned run, three hits and hit one batter, and struck out 14.
“I recognized they were standing off the plate a little bit, and I’m an inside pitcher,” Eilers said. “I threw it more inside, and they were chasing those a lot. My rise ball, they were chasing those. Occasionally I’d throw a curveball or a change-up, and they’d chase those too. I was really pleased with it.”
A year ago, Sterling lost a 1-0 home decision against Ottawa, and looked to be on that same path again this year before piecing together a rally against one of the league’s toughest pitchers.
“Tonight was an ugly win, but it was a win,” Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. “I felt if we would have put pressure on [Gayan] earlier, we would have had a better first six innings, but to do that in the seventh inning was great.”