Posted Online: March 26, 2013, 9:46 pm

Young guns should spice up Sherrard-Rockridge softball rivalry

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By Terry Duckett,

Eventually, the snow will melt and area softball teams will be able to take the field and get a new season into full swing.

Perennial rivals Rockridge and Sherrard are slated to renew that rivalry in two weeks with games set for April 9 and 11. The pair are expected to duel it out for the West Central Conference's North Division. Those key contests could give one or them a significant leg up in the race.

"It should be interesting to see,'' said Rockridge coach Jason Lingle. "Those two games should be the key in the conference race.''

Both teams are steeped in winning traditions. Rockridge's Rockets have reached the IHSA State Tournament five times, including a run of four straight appearances from 2004-07 that included the '05 Class A state championship. The Tigers have played in East Peoria twice (2002 and '12) and are coming off last spring's fourth-place 2A finish.

Besides their prep traditions, each knows a thing or two about winning on a big stage in the crucible of ASA fastpitch play. Rockridge and Sherrard have four players on their respective rosters coming off major title runs last summer on the USSSA (United States Specialty Sports Association) level.

Lingle also coached his summer team, the QC Dreamers Illusion, to the 14-U title at the USSSA World Series. He won that title with two of his current Rockets and two more players he is looking for big things from this spring in their prep softball debuts.

Sophomores Callie Gosney (outfield) and Michaela Stoneking (first base) made significant contributions in their rookie seasons, while the freshman duo of pitcher Tayah Hayes and outfielder/second baseman Erin Lingle could make their presence felt right away as part of a promising group of Rocket newcomers.

"This team is extremely talented,'' said Lingle, who took over the Rockridge program last spring and guided it to an 18-14 record, a second-place finish to Sherrard in the WCC North and the 2A regional finals. "We just need to get out and play some games.''

Sherrard, likewise, has four USSSA World Series-winning members of Lingle's Dreamers Illusion squad on its roster -- along with four members of the 15-U World Series champion Milan Aces. Those should help fill the void left by the graduation of nine seniors from its 29-7 Final Four team.

From the Dreamers Illusion, sophomore first baseman Jaryn Kinder was named the MVP at the USSSA 14-U gathering, with classmate Macy Hutchinson named the tourney's Most Outstanding Pitcher. Sophomore catcher Libby Frye joined Erin Lingle on the all-tournament team, with classmate and third baseman Jordan Hutton also a key contributor.

From the Aces comes a quartet, led by junior and two-year varsity starter Riley Strandgard, making the switch from outfield to shortstop this spring. Classmate Tori Redpath will be stepping in at second base for Sherrard this spring, with another junior, Kodee Mital, going behind the plate. Sophomore Rachel Winston is looking to build on last spring's postseason experience.

"We feel like we're reloading,'' said first-year Tiger coach Mike DeLoose, also a veteran of the summer softball scene. "Like everyone else, we've been stuck practicing indoors and hoping to get outside and back on the field soon. We're pretty excited about the season.''

With his newer players, DeLoose also hopes to add further options to an already potent Sherrard offense that averaged nearly eight runs per game last season, with Strandgard's school-record 12 home runs among the highlights.

"I want to continue the tradition and what we've been working on; we've got some good ones back with Riley and Alex (senior outfielder Alex Ward),'' he said, "but I also want to teach some new things to add to our offensive weapons.''