PEORIA – Sterling’s softball team ran into a buzz saw, both at the plate and the pitcher’s circle, in the Illinois High School Association Class 3A State Softball Tournament semifinals.
It was Highland which had the Golden Warriors’ number, and it added up to an 8-1 win for the Bulldogs on Thursday at the Louisville Slugger Sports Complex in Peoria.
Sterling is now 0-3 in the semifinal round. It lost 3-2 to Alton Marquette in 2013 and 14-7 to Manteno in 2014. The Warriors will face Norridge Ridgewood in the third-place game at 1:30 p.m.
Highland (24-1) was the whole package, led by senior pitcher Sam Miener. An Austin Peay University recruit, she mowed down Sterling hitters with a wicked fastball and a baffling change-up that had the Golden Warriors off-balance the whole game.
Miener allowed one hit, struck out 10 and walked one in going the distance. She is now 24-0 with 21 complete games. Her earned run average went from 0.21 to 0.24, after allowing her sixth earned run this season in 174 innings.
Sterling’s run came in the fourth inning. Elizabeth Palumbo reached on a one-out triple. Pinch-runner Naveah Frey then scored when the next batter, Hannah Jacoby, laid down a bunt that Highland third baseman Maddie Trauernicht fielded but was unable to get to the plate in time to nab Frey.
The Golden Warriors (17-8) also had runners in scoring position in the second and third innings, but were unable to break through against Miener.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, had no such trouble cooling off Sterling’s hot pitcher, Palumbo. The junior left-hander had allowed just two runs in 35 postseason innings, but was touched for eight runs (all earned) and 11 hits, with one strikeout, in 3 2/3 innings in the circle.
The trouble started right away for Palumbo as the Bulldogs struck for four runs in the bottom of the first inning. Syd Parkerson had the key hit, a two-run double that knocked in Maci Miles and Emma Strubinger with the game’s first runs.
Miener followed with a run-scoring base hit to make it 3-0. The fourth run was on a single by Trauernicht that plated courtesy runner Alex Schultz. Sterling catcher Karmen Weinrich was called for obstruction on the inning’s fourth run, a call that drew howls of protest from a large Sterling contingent.
Highland put the game on ice by scoring four more runs in the fourth. Parkerson again had the big hit, a two-run single that knocked in Bre Habermehl and Miles.
Parkerson’s four RBIs lifted her season total to 21, and she noted she and her teammates had a specific strategy against Palumbo.
“Our key was to lay off the riseball because we knew she had that special pitch,” Parkerson said, “and we wanted to jump on her fastballs early. The first two pitches, those were the ones we were looking at because those were the best ones we were going to see all game. We wanted to get on top of the count early, so those were the ones we were looking for.”
An RBI single by Miener plated Highland’s eighth run, and chased Palumbo from the circle. She was relieved by freshman Sierra Stingley, who tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Stingley was aided by a defense that turned double plays in the fifth and sixth innings.