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Phil Anastasia: For Sterling's seniors, a whirlwind weekend

First the prom, then a state softball final.

It's a tradition, and the seniors on the Sterling softball team are doing their part to keep pace with their well-coiffed classmates.

With a twist.

It's Saturday morning, the day after the prom, and the Silver Knights seniors are heading for the Shore, just like so many other 12th graders at Sterling and at other high schools.

But these girls plan to stop before they reach the beach. They will spend the best part of their day on hard clay instead of white sand.

"Everybody wants to know why we're not upset at missing prom weekend," Sterling senior pitcher Sammi Giambri said. "I'm like, 'We're going to states.' Who wouldn't want to go to states?"

Sterling's softball seniors are facing a scenario common to many of South Jersey's top spring athletes: a conflict between sports and school activities.

Last week, the 12 senior members of the Timber Creek baseball team skipped their class trip because the Chargers were playing in the first state semifinal in the history of the program. Two weeks ago, Moorestown's tennis players competed in the state finals at 10 on the morning after the school's prom.

It happens every year. Games, proms, class trips, graduations. Mix in a lot of rain, so the schedule gets even more complicated. Now add some plans for the Shore and some lingering decisions on college, and you've got a typical sports-playing senior's spring.

Things get crazy deep on the tournament trail. Athletes compete in some of the biggest games of their lives - usually it's the sectional finals in baseball or softball or the state finals in track - then race off to get ready for one of the defining events of teenage life.

Sterling's seniors have taken multitasking to a new level. They went to their prom last night. They will join the rest of the Silver Knights for this morning's Group 2 state championship game against Kittatinny at 11 o'clock at Toms River East.

"We're all excited about the prom," Sterling senior third baseman Lauren Easterday said. "But we're much more excited about playing for the state championship.

"None of us ever played in a game this [important] before. We're confident, but we're also a little bit nervous."

Sterling coach Kelly Tallant said the team planned to leave Somderdale for Toms River at 7:40 a.m. She said the seniors saw one positive about the timing of the prom.

"They said, 'Well, at least we won't be sitting home thinking about the game and getting nervous,' " Tallant said.

The Silver Knights are riding high. On Tuesday, they rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 4-3 to beat Carteret in the Group 2 state semifinals, scoring a 7-4 victory when Easterday hit a walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh inning.

"It was definitely the best moment of my life as an athlete," Easterday said. "It's still awesome. I still can't believe it."

When she stepped to the plate, Easterday was 0 for 3 with three strikeouts. She hit the first pitch over the left-field fence.

"My grandpop was like, 'I never saw you strike out three times,' " Easterday said. "Then he was like, 'How about if next time you hit the grand slam first, then strike out three times?' "

Sterling (26-3) has been consistent all season, thanks to the solid play and strong leadership of its seven seniors. Giambri has a 14-2 record with a 1.02 ERA and also is hitting .436. Easterday is hitting .415 and leads the team with 14 doubles.

The Silver Knights also got a big boost this season from freshman shortstop Kylie McGoldrick, who leads the team with a .536 batting average.

"We've just been determined all year," Giambri said. "We've all played together from the beginning. Most of us were on the freshman team together, and we've just carried it through.

"We really want to go out on top."

Looking back, everybody says high school was a blur. Now imagine the Sterling seniors, jamming the end of the prom and the first pitch of the state championship game in a 12-hour window.

"Nobody is disappointed that we're missing prom weekend," Easterday said. "We'd much rather play in states instead."