CRYSTAL LAKE — After being spotted an early 1-0 lead and retiring the first batter she faced during Thursday's Fox Valley Conference road game against Crystal Lake South, Dundee-Crown senior starting pitcher Sydney Ruggles hit a snag.
She allowed a walk, followed by consecutive singles, including a squeeze bunt which let South tie the score. But Ruggles turned the page quickly, in dominant fashion, retiring the next 14 batters she faced.
That included 1-2-3 innings in the second through fifth, as Dundee-Crown (3-6, 1-1 FVC) spoiled the Gators' FVC opener with a 4-1 victory.
"After that first inning, I just kind of got fully warm and into a rhythm and tried to adjust to what the umpire was giving me," Ruggles said. "He was giving me extra room on the outer half of the plate, so I kept pounding the ball out there. My velocity felt strong. My defense was solid behind me. This was a really good win against a really good team. We'll take it."
Ruggles scattered five hits and walked just one, while striking out 10. And when the Gators (4-2, 0-1) brought the tying run to the plate in both the sixth and seventh innings, Ruggles came up huge, striking out the final two hitters she faced in each of those frames, too.
"Syd's a worker and she always has been," D-C coach Tracy Beatty said. "All summer long, she plays travel softball. You're gonna see her in the circle 90 percent of the spring and summer. That's what she does. She will go to lessons, practice ... you name it. This sport is basically seven days a week for her.
"She's gotten physically stronger since last year. She's mentally stronger. And the bigger the situation, you usually see an elevation in her play, which happened late in this game when things got close. That's what four years of maturity and experience can do for a player like her."
The Chargers scored first on Alaina Azar's RBI single in the top of the first, then later recaptured the lead for good in the fifth thanks to back-to-back run-scoring singles by Cady English and Claire Weeks. Ruggles added an insurance run in the sixth when she scored on a fielding error following Andrea Conway's base hit.
In the end, Gators coach Scott Busam admitted it was Ruggles' effort in the circle, coupled with his team's anxiousness, that did them in. South got seven solid innings from junior starter Christina Toniolo, who allowed nine hits, all of which were singles.
"We have a strong-hitting team, and we have a lot of experienced players on our team," Busam said. "And we allowed Sydney to dictate a lot of our at-bats. We chased pitches up high, outside ... but then we took pitches right down the middle at the knees.
"What I want to see our hitters do more is attacking the pitches they want at the plate instead of the pitches the opposing pitcher wants them to chase. Not going up there and guessing. Not going up there and hoping. But having a plan in the batter's box to strike the pitches we are looking for."
Sydney Ruggles, Dundee-Crown, sr., P
The Chargers' ace retired 14 consecutive batters at one point, and worked out of jams in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings to pick up the win.
6: The number of different South hitters Ruggles struck out. She had 10 strikeouts in all, while walking just one. After allowing a run in the first inning, only one other batter she faced made it beyond second base.
AND ANOTHER THING ...
All nine of Dundee-Crown's hits Thursday evening were singles.