Sterling's softball team sure does know how to come from behind when it plays on Marengo's field.
The last time the Golden Warriors played at Marengo before Tuesday's Class 3A sectional semifinal against Burlington Central was the 2013 sectional championship game, which they won over host Marengo in walk off fashion.
Well, Sterling did it again on Tuesday.
Sophomore Abri Hale's double to the base of the fence with two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning scored Nadia Trujillo with the game-winning run as the Warriors defeated Central 8-7 to move on to Saturday's sectional title game against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal between Marengo and Belvidere.
"We really haven't panicked all year and we've had games we've come from behind to win," said Sterling coach Becki Edmondson, whose team includes five starters from the 2011 Little League World Series championship team.
The Rockets (23-10) jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning as the Gaylord sisters, senior Brooke and junior Kassie, each blasted 2-run home runs off Sterling freshman Lexy Staples, who was the pitcher for that Little League World Series team.
But then Staples settled down and the Warriors (28-8) started their comeback. They scored 2 unearned runs in the bottom of the second on an outfield error then made it a 4-3 game in the third when Trujillo (2-for-3) drove in sophomore Erin Stroup (3-for-4), who had singled.
Central made it 5-3 in the top of the fifth, Brooke Gaylord (3-for-4, 5 RBI) doubling in Courtni Neubauer (2-for-4), who had singled.
But Central coach Wade Maisto, who has used Brooke Gaylord and sophomore Emily Kisch equally in the circle all season, decided to go to Kisch in the bottom of the fifth, as Sterling had the top of the order due up and was coming into its third time through the batting order.
Kisch struggled, though, giving up a leadoff single to Stroup and a bunt single to Shannon Long before Cornell-bound Karlie Mellott singled in Stroup to make it 5-4. Trujillo then drew a walk and Lauren Fritz delivered a 2-run single to make it a 6-5 Sterling lead. And even though Kisch got the next two batters out, she threw a wild pitch that allowed Trujillo to score and make it 7-5. After Darien Bardoner walked, Maisto went back to Brooke Gaylord who got the third out.
"I'm not going to second guess that," said Maisto of the pitching change. "They were starting to hit Brooke, they had the top of the order up and they had gone through the order twice and were seeing her better. Kisch needs the inside pitch and she wasn't getting it."
The Rockets fought back, though. Down to their final strike in the top of the seventh, Brooke Gaylord delivered with her second 2-run homer of the game, a tomahawk shot over the left field fence, tying it at 7-7.
"High pitches are my thing," she said. "The entire team was up and we had confidence we could get back in it."
After Brooke Gaylord (11-6) pitched out of a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh, the Rockets squandered a chance in the top of the eighth. Kassie Gaylord walked to lead off the inning but was picked off first by Trujillo. Becca Gerke was then hit by a pitch but forced out at second on one of many defensive gems turned in by Mellott at short. She snared Tori Harvey's hard-hit grounder and got the ball to second in time to beat Gerke. A fumbled pop up allowed Kristina Ahlers to reach but Staples got Amanda Ratliff to ground out to Mellott to end the threat.
Mellott took a called third strike to open the bottom of the eighth but Trujillo dumped a bloop single into right. Fritz flew out but then Hale took a 1-2 pitch deep to left-center and Trujillo scored the game-winner easily.
"I was pitching (Hale) inside the whole game," said Brooke Gaylord, who will play at Loras College next year. "I got too worried about hitting her and I put it right there."
Brooke Gaylord allowed just 5 hits in 7⅓ innings. She struck out 3 and walked 2. Staples struck out 3, walked 2 and hit 2 while allowing 10 hits for Sterling. Kisch went 2-for-4 at the plate for the Rockets.
"The one that hurt was the flyball (in the second inning)," said Maisto, who announced after the game he is stepping down. "It wasn't an easy play but it could have been caught and that might have changed the flavor of the game. But that's Sterling. They don't take a dive. Being down 4-0 didn't make them quiver one bit."