Dundee-Crown's Sydney Ruggles didn't know it at the time, but the standout pitcher's big-game showing this postseason proved extremely valuable to her future academic and softball careers.
After tossing a four-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in a 1-0 victory against Hampshire in the Class 4A regional semifinals, the soon-to-be senior held Barrington – the state third-place finisher – to two runs and five hits in a 2-0 regional final defeat.
The loss might have ended Ruggles' high school season, but it opened another opportunity upon graduation.
Little did Ruggles know that Loyola softball coach Jeff Tylka was there to watch her pitch against state-power Barrington. Tylka was so impressed he made an offer after the game. Ruggles went on a visit to the Chicago campus and committed to the NCAA Division-I Ramblers last week.
She announced her decision Monday night on Twitter.
"I just feel like they were such big games," Ruggles said. "I didn’t really let my nerves get to me. I just kind of pitched how I know how to pitch, and I did really well. Shutting out Hampshire is not easy, and holding Barrington to two runs is also very hard, so it kind of caught their attention."
Ruggles said she didn't receive any other scholarship offers, but as soon as Loyola's offer was on the table, it was "a weight lifted off my shoulders." She wasn't sure a city school would be a good fit until she visited the Missouri Valley Conference school.
"I had never really been down there, so I went on a visit, and I just completely fell in love with the school," Ruggles said. "It's beautiful. I didn’t think I would like it too much because I’m not a very big city person, but it didn’t feel like I was in the city. I felt like it was kind of your own little world."
Ruggles went to Loyola at the beginning of the year for a pitching camp and found out that they were interested. Ruggles' pitching coach, Mike Freese, is an assistant coach at Barrington and has connections to Loyola. His son, Brian Freese, is a volunteer assistant coach at Loyola.
"He really liked what I could do in real game situations, so then that’s when it all came together," Ruggles said. "I had no idea they were there. I only found out after the game. I really wanted to commit [before my senior year] so that I can just focus on playing softball and getting better."
Emily Borg, a 2016 Jacobs graduate, just finished up her freshman season at Loyola, while Hampshire's Peyton DeChant will be a freshman there next fall.
The Ramblers finished 27-26 this season, earning a berth in the MVC Tournament for the first time since 2014. They started the year on a 14-game winning streak with 11 underclassmen.
Ruggles won 21 games for D-C with a 1.96 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. She led the area in strikeouts for the second straight year, fanning 264 batters in 199 2/3 innings. Over the past two seasons, she has 475 strikeouts in 366 2/3 innings – or more than nine strikeouts per seven innings.
She's no slouch at the plate either, hitting .343 as a junior with seven doubles, a home run and 21 RBIs (third most on the team).
"She’s a complete package as a pitcher," Chargers coach Tracy Beatty said. "She stays focused, she’s a great defensive pitcher and she’s going to be out there and compete for every single out and every single inning of every game. She’s not intimidated, and she’s the driving force for us."
Ruggles is the first softball player during Beatty's 10 seasons at D-C to go D-I.
"I feel like she’s got softball running through her veins," Beatty said. "Every year, you’re going to see improvement. She’s going to get stronger, she’s going to throw harder. If there’s one thing about Syd I know, she will rise up to the challenge. She’s going to get pushed, and she’s only going to get better.
"I think she’ll love it because the competition at that level is going to be outstanding."
With her college commitment out of the way, Ruggles, who wants to study law enforcement at Loyola, said she is looking forward to her travel softball season (Northern Illinois Lightning 18U), and on improving for her senior year at D-C.
"I want to get all of my pitches better every year," said Ruggles, "and I try to beat how many strikeouts I had the previous year."