Brooke Gaylord couldn't have asked for a better senior day.
And the Burlington Central softball team couldn't have asked for a better game than Thursday's to carry it into the postseason.
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Gaylord fired a 1-hitter with 11 strikeouts and 1 walk, and she went 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple and a booming home run, as the Rockets downed Rock Falls 7-0 in a Big Northern Conference crossover on senior day at Rocket Hill.
"I was very thankful for senior day," said Gaylord, a four-year varsity player who was honored along with Bekah Harnish, Tory Harvey and Lindsey Strohmaier. "The underclassmen did a great job of putting it together. A lot of people have adjusted to changes (since her freshman year) and it just went by so fast. It's weird to think this is our last regular-season game on this field. I'm going to miss it but I'm excited for next year."
The Rockets (21-9) are also excited for next week's Class 3A regional, which they host and are the top seed for. And if they continue to pitch, hit and play defense like they did on Thursday, "We could be an awfully tough team to beat," says their coach, Wade Maisto.
He won't get any arguments from Rock Falls on that one. The visiting Rockets came in sporting a 21-8 record and a junior right-hander in the circle in Michaela Ward, who has been drawing some Division I interest.
But even though Ward struck out 14 BC batters, she walked 6, gave up 8 hits, and her defense committed 3 crucial errors that led to 4 unearned runs.
The first of those came in the bottom of the first inning. Junior Courtni Neubauer drew a one-out walk, stole second and scored on Gaylord's triple off the center field fence. Rock Falls' throw to third to try to get Gaylord went wild and she came home for a 2-0 BC lead.
Central added a run in the second when Harvey reached on an error, stole second and then scored on another error. The host Rockets made it 4-0 in the third when they scored on a perfectly executed first-and-third double steal between courtesy runner Amanda Ratliff and Harvey. In the fifth, Kassidy Gaylord and Becca Gerke each beat out infield hits, Kassidy Gaylord scoring on an error and Gerke coming home on Harnish's rifle-shot ground rule double to left.
BC finished the scoring in the sixth when Brooke Gaylord launched a solo home run over the center field fence, her second homer of the season.
And in the circle, the veteran left-hander, who will play collegiately at Loras College in Iowa, was tough as ever in running her record to 10-5 for the season. She allowed only a clean single to Rock Falls' second batter of the game, Kaylyn Booker, and then a two-out walk in the second to Baylie Janssen, before retiring the next 16 Rock Falls hitters in a row.
"That's as good as she's pitched all year," Maisto said. "She was getting ahead of hitters and she just pitched really well against a good team.
"I liked how everybody was into the game today. Our approach at the plate was much better, we played good defense and Brooke pitched a really good game."
All the things the Rockets will need to make a postseason run.