Prep softball: Big 4th inning leads Kaneland past Sterling, into sectional finals

Kaneland's Jenna Harper celebrates after scoring a run Tuesday, May 31, 2022, during their Class 3A Sectional semifinal game against Sterling at Sycamore High School.

SYCAMORE – Another season, another sectional semifinal game between Sterling and Kaneland.

The Knights snapped a two-game postseason skid against the Golden Warriors in a big way Tuesday, topping Sterling, 10-1, in a Class 3A Sycamore Sectional semifinal.

“It was great because they beat us the last two years, and last year it really hurt,” said Emily Olp, who had two hits, scored twice and drove in three runs for the Knights. “We were not expecting to lose last year. That was really disappointing. So coming in here and winning today is the best feeling ever.”

Sterling (15-7) had beaten Kaneland (18-12) in the sectional semifinals in the past two postseasons (2019 and 2021); the Golden Warriors ended up finishing third in the state last year. In 2018, the Knights beat the Golden Warriors in a sectional semifinal on their way to taking fourth at state.

On Wednesday, the Knights exploded for seven runs in the fourth inning, five coming with two outs.

“Sterling has been a thorn in our side in the tournament for years,” Kaneland coach Mike Kuefler said. “It was nice to finally wash them away.”

Last year, Sterling starter Elizabeth Palumbo tossed a three-hitter against the Knights. This year, the first two Kaneland batters – Olivia Stoker and Kailey Plank – singled, and both came around to score.

The Knights clung to the 2-0 lead in the top of the fourth when they put up seven runs, aided by a pair of Sterling errors. Corrine Pugh hit a two-run double off the base of the fence in left that scored two runs, just missing a home run.

That chased Palumbo from the game, as she ended up surrendering five runs and six hits. She struck out one.

“We knew this kid from last year, Palumbo,” Kuefler said. “We worked on making adjustments on that kid. And then the second kid came in and we made adjustments on her, too. If we can make adjustments and put the ball in play and take that pitcher out of her comfort zone, we’re doing the right things at the plate.”

Sienna Stingley came on to pitch for the Golden Warriors, striking out the first batter she faced for the second out of the inning. A single by Stoker and an error on the play let Pugh score, then after a hit batter, an error let Izzy Strombes reach to load the bases and prolong the inning.

Olp and Jenna Harper followed with RBI hits to push the Kaneland lead to 9-0.

“We struggled just one inning,” Sterling coach Becki Edmondson said. “I thought we made some good catches and some good plays. But we had that one inning where a few balls were booted. Overall we didn’t play too bad. We’re young. We started three freshmen, so big games, things like that are going to happen.”

The Golden Warriors got on the board in the fourth on their only hit of the game, a homer to left by Ellie Leigh.

Edmondson said given the youth of her team she expects them to be back next year.

“It was kind of a crazy year,” Edmondson said. “We were up, we were down, we had some crazy weather, but we came together at the end, and we made a good run for it.”

Kaneland starting pitcher Grace Algrim went the distance, allowing the one hit and striking out eight while giving up four walks.

Kaneland had 11 hits in the game, including three doubles for Harper, who scored twice and drove in a run. Stoker also had a pair of hits for the Knights.

Before the postseason started the Knights lost seven of eight games. Now they are one of the final 16 teams playing in Class 3A. They’ll face either Belvidere North or Woodstock North in the championship game Friday.

“This feels great,” Olp said. “We had kind of a rough patch to the season, and now it’s great we’re putting it all together in the end. We really want it this year.”

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