EAST PEORIA – The Sterling Golden Warriors landed the fourth-place trophy from IHSA Class 3A State Softball tournament, falling to Tinley Park 5-4 in Saturday’s third-place game at EastSide Centre.
Sterling’s fourth-place finishes comes on the heels of St. Bede’s fourth-place showing in last week’s 2A finals.
The Golden Warriors become the ninth team from the area to place at state since Streator won the AA title in 1984.
With the score tied at four in the sixth inning, the Golden Warriors (28-5) were threatening to break the game open with McKenna Pearson standing on second and Gabi Trujillo on first with one out.
Cassidy Gillihan, a threat to bunt or to slap a hit into the outfield, was likely the last hitter that pitcher Sarah Gillespie wanted to see.
After getting ahead in the count 2-1, Gillihan slapped a bloop toward shallow left field.Left fielder Kate Sebastian broke late and didn’t have a chance. The ball looked about to drop when Tinley Park’s Alyssa Gunther zoomed over and dove away from the infield to make the catch. She then had the presence of mind to turn and fire a throw from one knee to second base before Pearson could get back safely.
“We got to state because of our defense, and it was our defense that won the game for us today, We’ve grown used to knowing that, when the ball is in the air, that it’s going to end up in Alyssa’s glove,” Tinley Park coach Wendy Podbielniak said.
“I didn’t think there was any way that I was going to get to it at first,” Gunther said. “I had to try because the team needed the out. When I made the catch, I knew I needed to check the runner because I thought they’d be tagging. It turned out she had went too far off the bag, and I made the throw.”
Gunther doubled and scored the winning run on a double by Alberto
Sterling catcher Bailey Oetting said the Warriors made a good showing.
“We lost two games down here by a run each. It shows that all four teams here deserved to be here, and any of the four could have won it all,” she said.
“I’m so proud of the whole group,” Sterling coach Rick Henderson said. “They showed the heart that they’ve played with all season. They never stopped fighting. A few plays were the difference, and that’s just the game of softball.”