By Jay Neal
FAIRFIELD — Rusk pitcher Sydney Littlejohn said that she felt exceptionally good prior to the start of Friday’s Game 1 of a best-of-three Area Round series with Waco Connally.
The tall righty not only felt good, but she pitched good and hit the ball excellently as well.
Littlejohn threw a complete game two-hitter while striking out 14 Lady Cadets to guide the No.2-ranked Lady Eagles (25-2) to a 1-0 win over Connally (14-10).
She was also the leading hitter for Rusk, going 2-for-2 at the plate including driving in what turned out to be the game’s lone run as well as the winning run when she laced a single into center field in the home half of the second inning that sent Juliann Bowling home from second.
Bowling got aboard on a one-out walk from Connally’s ace Heather Reed.
Littlejohn struckout the side in both the first and fourth segments while giving up just two walks in the game.
Both of the hits she surrendered were singles, an infield base hit by Zabrina Darr in the third and a hit up-the-middle by Kierra Gaither, who came into the game hitting .295 (third best on the Lady Cadet team), to start the fifth frame.
Connally’s only scoring threat came in the fifth when Gaither was moved over to second on a sacrifice bunt and then advanced to third on a wild pitch.
Littlejohn buckled down to whiff Marisa Garza to end the inning however.
Freshman-outfielder Kara Hugghins also had a pair of hits in three trips to the plate for Rusk, who won its 16th game in-a-row.
The Lady Eagles’ big hit came off of the bat of senior Maranda Westbrook who mashed a Reed offering into the gap in right center for a stand up triple with two outs in the third.
Westbrook, who tried to stretch it out to an inside the park job, was thrown out by the Connally catcher, Gaither, as she retreated back to the hot corner after getting about halfway to home plate on the play.
The highly-touted Lady Cadet infield lived up to its billing by playing flawlessly with Gaither leading the way by throwing out three Rusk base runners.
Arika Minchew made a fine defensive grab of a hot smash down the third base line by the Lady Cadet’s Kassie Terral to end the sixth.
Connally had a runner at first at the time and without Minchew’s snag the inning would have turned out much more favorably for Connally, the third place team from District 19-3A.
Rusk’s remaining hit came in the form of an infield single by Minchew.
Littlejohn improves to 25-2 on the year while Reed’s record now stands at 10-6.
The two teams were scheduled to complete the series Saturday afternoon in Fairfield (results not available as of press time).
The winner of the series moves on to the regional quarterfinal round later this week and will face the winner of the Lorena-Huntington series.
Huntington spanked the Lady Leopards 10-3 in Game 1 on Friday night in Madisonville.
Rusk 1 Waco Connally 0
Class 3A, Region III, Area Round
Game 1 of best-of-three series
Don Posey Field, Fairfield High School
Connally 0-0-0-0-0-0-0- 0-2-0
Rusk 0-1-0-0-0-0-X 1-6-1
Heather Reed and Kierra Gaither. Sydney Littlejohn and Mallory Westbrook. WP-Littlejohn (25-2); LP-Reed (10-6). 3B— R: Maranda Westbrook. SAC — C:Zabrina Darr; R: Mallory Westbrook. SB — R: Juliann Bowling. CS — R: Gabby Willis, Bowling.
Left on base — C: 4; R: 3. Records — Connally 14-10; Rusk 25-2.