Sterling took Brooke Gaylord’s best shot, then took another one before they delivered a shot of their own for the knockout.
Abri Hale’s two-out, line-drive double into the left-center field gap drove home the winning run in the bottom of the eighth inning Tuesday to give Sterling an 8-7 victory over Burlington Central in the Class 3A Marengo Sectional.
It came after Gaylord had hit her second homer of the game with two out in the seventh to force an extra inning.
“We really haven’t panicked all year,” Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. “We’ve had good leadership. We’ve had good games that we’ve come from behind before.”
Sterling (28-8) advanced to face Wednesday’s Marengo-Belvidere winning in Saturday’s title game.
The Rockets (23-10) hit Sterling with a four-run first inning thanks to two-run homers from Gaylord and her sister, Kassidy. But after Central coach Wade Maisto pulled Brooke Gaylord from the pitching circle, the Warriors rallied for a 7-5 lead with a four-run fifth off reliever Emily Kisch.
“I’m not going to second-guess that (putting in Kisch) because they were starting to hit Brooke,” Maisto said. “Obvously, it didn’t work.
“But if I’d left Brooke in and they got a couple more runs, people would say, ‘Why weren’t you putting in your other girl?’ I’m not going to second-guess myself on that because we brought Brooke back in and then we tied it up.”
Gaylord, who went 3-for-4 with five RBI, came back to the pitching circle for the last out of the fifth to relieve Kisch and got through the sixth and seventh while producing a dramatic tying home run.
Edmondson had ordered Staples to “unintentionally intentionally walk” Gaylord on the pitch, and wasn’t worried about putting the tying run on base.
Staples got it a little too close to the strike zone.
“High pitches are my thing,” Gaylord said. “So when I saw it up there I knew whether it was a strike or not to swing. That was my best shot at getting a hit.”
However, Gaylord made her own pitching mistake in the eighth. With two out and a runner on first, she had two strikes on Hale, who connected to the fence.
“I was pitching her inside all game,” Gaylord said. “It was an inside pitch. I tried jamming her and I just didn’t get it enough.
“She was crowding the plate. I shouldn’t have worried about hitting her. I just should have thrown it there.”
Gaylord ended up pitching seven innings, allowing six hits and four runs for the loss.
Although Maisto didn’t second-guess removing the left-handed Gaylord for righty Kisch in the four-run fifth, he wasn’t as kind on himself for having Bekah Harnish try to steal third in the fifth. She was thrown out just before Gaylord produced an RBI double. If it had been a two-run double, the extra run could have kept the Rockets’ season going.
“I got stupid, I tried to get aggressive,” he said. “I was trying to steal a run. They had just put a new catcher in.”