Softball: Sterling’s Stephanie Kester shuts down KanelandKaneland short stop Allyson O'Herron fields a ground ball during their Sectional game against Sterling at Belvidere North High School in Belvidere on Wednesday, May 30, 2012. Sterling would go on to win 9-1. | Brian Powers~Sun-Times Media
Unfortunately for Kaneland, which dropped a 9-1 decision to Sterling Wednesday in the Belvidere North Class 3A Softball Sectional, there are no do-overs come playoff time.
“I felt like we should have come back a lot more times but we didn’t,” said Knight senior pitcher and leadoff hitter Delani Vest. “We didn’t execute as much as we usually do. If we ever saw that team again with the same (groups on both sides) — obviously, our season’s over — I think there would be a different outcome.”
This day, though, the better team won.
Sterling got solid pitching from 25-6 Stephanie Kester, an 11-hit attack with contributions from up and down the lineup and, maybe most important of all, an airtight defense that was able to shut down Kaneland’s high-pressure offense.
The Knights, who came in with a .377 team batting average, had six hits in the first three innings but managed just one run. They had just one hit over the final four innings, when Kester faced the minimum 12 batters.
An infield error helped lead to a Sterling score in the first inning and was one of four unearned runs for the Golden Warriors (31-6) off a usually stout Kaneland defense, which had three miscues this day.
Vest and Co. answered in the bottom half, though. She slapped a shot that sailed into left field over the diving effort of the pulled-in outfielder and was bunted to second by Allyson O’Herron and singled home by Paige Kuefler, who was thrown out trying to advance to second on an overthrow on a heads-up play by catcher Ashli King.
“It’s certainly disappointing to go out this way, but hats off to Sterling,” said Kaneland coach Brian Willis, whose team finishes 31-7. “I thought we had chances out there with five hits in the first two innings but getting only one run, we shot ourselves in the foot.”
Golden Warriors senior third baseman Paige Lobdell had three assists on Kaneland slaps or bunts and Kester started a 1-6-3 double play in the sixth to erase Kuefler after her second hit.
“Our bunts were terrible,” said Willis. “They made nice plays but we bunted the ball too hard so it wasn’t like they were making difficult plays.”
Sophomore shortstop and leadoff hitter Karlie Mellott led Sterling with three hits, three runs and two RBI. Kester added two hits as did No. 9 hitter Gabi Trujillo.
“We told (Kester) to pitch her game and be ready to field,” said Sterling coach Rick Henderson, whose team moves on to Saturday’s 11 a.m. title game against the winner of Thursday’s semifinal between Marengo and Burlington Central.
“Offensively, from top to bottom, it’s been really a pleasant surprise. We’ve done it before (this season), but we’re facing some really tough teams now.”