Class 3A Marengo sectional
The matchups: Burlington Central (23-9) vs. Sterling (27-8), 4:30 p.m. Tuesday; Marengo (27-10) vs. Belvidere (19-8), 4:30 p.m. Wednesday; Championship game, 11 a.m. Saturday.
Outlook: Burlington Central is back in sectional play for the second time in the last three years after losing to Marengo in a regional final last season. The Rockets squandered a 5-2 lead in the top of the seventh inning to Kaneland but came back to win 6-5 in the bottom of the seventh in the regional championship game on Saturday. Now, they get a shot at last year's fourth-place Class 3A team in Sterling, but it's a far different Golden Warriors team than it was a year ago when they beat Marengo in the bottom of the seventh inning in the sectional title game then downed Wauconda in the supersectional. Not only does Sterling have a new coach but it has a relatively new team including a freshman pitcher.
But while first-year Warriors' coach Becki Edmondson says she still has a, "young team," BC coach Wade Maisto doesn't put much stock in that.
"Young teams tend to be real hungry," Maisto said. "Young teams don't have the distraction of graduation parties and going off to college. To me, being young is not a negative."
The Rockets have played Sterling. On May 17, BC committed 5 errors and let a lead slip away in a 7-5 loss to the Warriors in the championship game of the IC Catholic tournament.
Sterling is youngest in the circle, where freshman Lexy Staples has pitched over 200 innings -- all but 5 of her team's innings this season -- with an ERA of right around 2. She struck out 11 and had 1 walk and 5 hits allowed in Sterling's 6-1 regional final win over Rock Falls, a team BC beat 7-0 last week.
"It's hard to watch her and understand she's a freshman," said Edmondson, who was now-retired coach Rick Henderson's assistant last year. "She's got really good poise and she's pitched in a lot of big games in her softball life."
Edmondson says two senior starters have been the staples to bringing along the younger players on her team. Shortstop Karlie Mellott, who will play at Cornell next year, is the team's leading hitter and has 220 career hits, which ranks 15th in IHSA history. Her 16th double of the season in the regional title game broke the Sterling school record for doubles in a season. Devin Bardoner has also been a steady infielder for the Warriors, while sophomore Erin Stroup has a .511 on-base percentage.
Edmondson says the key to winning Tuesday will be the simple equation all coaches hope for -- timely hitting, solid defense and good pitching.
"Our secret to success for this game would be timely hitting and taking advantage of any errors (Central) gives us," said Edmondson, whose team is 24-3 against Class 3A or smaller competition this season. "It's like any game -- timely hitting, good pitching and solid defense. Most of our girls were on the roster downstate last year and in our big sectional comeback against Marengo. We can reflect on that and know that if we get behind, it's OK, we can come back."
The Rockets, meanwhile, are 10-2 in their last 12 games, the losses being back-to-back to Sterling and Class 4A regional champion DeKalb. Central played against 10 Class 4A teams this season, going 7-6. While the defense has been suspect at times throughout the season, the pitching and the offense have not.
Led by senior Brooke Gaylord and sophomore Emily Kisch in the circle, and senior catcher Bekah Harnish and junior left fielder Courtni Neubauer offensively, along with Brooke Gaylord, Kassie Gaylord and Kisch, the Rockets can score runs in bunches and their pitchers are two of the best around.
"When we play solid defense we're a tough team to beat, but we've shot ourselves in the foot a couple times with our defense. We have been playing defense better lately and either one of my pitchers is capable of shutting teams down," said Maisto, who added he was undecided as to who his starting pitcher would be on Tuesday.
In the Wednesday semifinal, the host Indians would appear to be a heavy favorite against Belvidere. The Big Northern East champs won their eighth straight regional title on Saturday. They are led by seniors Taylor Carlson, Abby Kissack and Gabbi Markison and freshman pitcher Mariah Dionne (20-4).
Advancement: The Marengo sectional winner advances to the Barrington supersectional on Monday, June 9 to play a 4:30 p.m. game against the Ridgewood sectional winner. The matchups at Ridgewood have Wauconda taking on Antioch and Grayslake Central facing Lakes.