How could Wauconda softball coach Tim Rennels be sad when he had his young, promising lefty sitting next to him in the dugout?
Yes, the future looks bright.
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"A southpaw," a smiling Rennels said proudly of his 2-year-old grandson, David, who was too fascinated with the fast-moving commuter train beyond the outfield fence to care about what his grandpa was talking about.
The young righty who pitched for Wauconda at Barrington's Fields of Dreams on Monday also has Rennels excited.
Yet on this sunny day, sophomore Kayla Wedl lost a pitchers' duel to another young talent. Freshman right-hander Lexy Staples fired a 3-hitter, striking out a pair and walking three, as Sterling held off Wauconda 3-1 in a Class 3A supersectional for the second year in a row.
Wauconda, which last year won its first sectional championship in school history, finished 29-9, while Sterling (30-8) earned a berth downstate.
"We had a great group of girls," said Bulldogs junior center fielder Paige Motley, whose 2-for-3 effort and lone RBI for her team didn't cheer her up.
It was a déjà vu for Wauconda, which lost by the same score to Sterling in the supersectional at Judson College in Elgin last year.
"Same thing, different field," Wedl said after allowing 6 hits and fanning six to hike her season-strikeout total to 339. She didn't walk anybody.
"Different feel," said Rennels, comparing supersectional defeats. "Last year, we had our disappointment, but we had done things that Wauconda hadn't done before. We felt good about that. When I look back at that team and the growth that we had with this team, it's more of a disappointment this year."
Just as it did last year, Sterling got a key home run against Wedl. This time it was cleanup-hitting sophomore Nadia Trujillo, who broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth when she smacked a pitch over the fence in center field with Karlie Mellott -- Wedl's Illinois Chill travel ball teammate -- aboard. Mellott, who went 2-for-3, had reached on a two-base error with one out.
"It was a riseball and it didn't break high enough," Wedl said of Trujillo's homer. "She just hit it and it went."
Wauconda wasn't going away against Staples, who yielded only Motley's first-inning bunt single through the first five innings.
With Sterling still leading 2-0, Jena Heck led off the Wauconda sixth by drawing her second walk. Pinch hitter Lauren Carney then bunted, and when Sterling couldn't make the play at second base, the Bulldogs had two on and none out. Taylor McCarthy followed by looping a single into shallow right, loading the bases.
Motley's line-drive single into center field scored Heck, cutting the Bulldogs' deficit in half.
Lauren Nee then lined a pitch to the right of the second-base bag, but second baseman Gabby Sandoval dived, made the catch and flipped the ball to shortstop Mellott to double McCarthy off second.
"If she doesn't make a hall-of-fame double play," Rennels said of Sandoval, "we win the ballgame."
With runners on the corners, the cleanup-hitting Wedl lined out to right field.
"I thought we were going to have them," Motley said. "We just came up short."
Abri Hale's fielder's-choice RBI in the bottom of the sixth provided Sterling an insurance run, and Staples pitched a 1-2-3 seventh to send the Golden Warriors into Friday's 12:30 p.m. state semifinal against Manteno at Eastside Centre in East Peoria.
Wauconda graduates eight seniors, including its starting infield of third baseman Alyssa Wagner, shortstop Nee, second baseman Heck and first baseman Angie Exline, as well as Carney, Marissa Honeyman, Savannah Mitchell and Abby Baldocchi.
"I feel bad for my seniors," Rennels said. "They exceeded my expectations and my dreams. They were a hungry bunch. They brought everybody together. Tightest team I've ever had. I'll miss every one of them."