Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

May 2, 2013

3A Area Softball: Two blazing hot teams set to collide

Jay Neal
Jacksonville Daily Progress

FAIRFIELD —  Two of perhaps the regions' hottest softball teams are set to collide when a Class 3A, Region III Area best of-3 series gets under way at 7 p.m. tonight at Fairfield High School.

The No. 4-ranked Rusk Lady Eagles (23-2) will take an 18-game winning streak (Rusk last lost on Feb. 16, a 5-0 defeat to Class 5A Deer Park) into the opener against Waco Robinson, a traditional Central Texas powerhouse that finished third in District 17-3A.

Robinson eliminated Rusk last year in the regional quarterfinal round of the state playoffs and advanced all the way to the regional semi-finals.

Lady Eagle fans should note that the Rockettes' credentials are somewhat bewildering.

Robison uncharacteristically lost its first three conference games this spring, playing in a formidable circuit that included state ranked Lorena and West.

But since that time Robinson has been hotter than a firecracker on the Fourth of July as the Rockettes have won eight of its last 10 games — the Rockettes' only setback came to No.9-ranked Lorena (1-0).

The Rockettes strolled to a pair of wins over Caldwell last week in bi-district play to earn the right to meet the Lady Eagles.

After marching through a not-so-difficult District 19-3A undefeated, Rusk head coach Ashley Renner had her team play No. 5-ranked Henderson and Metroplex power Celina in warm up games last week.

The Lady Eagles passed both of those tests, defeating Henderson 1-0 and rolling Celina by a 4-0 margin on Friday.

Juliann Bowling and Bailee Gates sparked the Lady Eagles at the plate by going 2-for-3 each. Bowling, the team's senior shortstop and infield anchor, also drove in two runs in the victory over Celina.

Also picking up hits for the Lady Eagles were Sydney Littlejohn, who had a double, Gabby Willis, Kelsey Blankinship and Cheyanne Phillips.

Littlejohn, the team's remaining senior, no-hit Celina and struck out 13 of the 21 Ladycats that she faced.

The University of Alabama signee will enter the playoffs in solid form. She needs just two strike outs to set a new school record for most strike outs in a season, while sitting 13 Ks shy of the 1000-career strike outs mark.

After an off day on Friday, the series will reconvene at 1 p.m. Saturday for Game 2. Should a third game be needed it will be played 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.

All games are scheduled for Fairfield, a destination that has been like a home away from home for Rusk in the past couple of seasons.

The Lady Eagle posted an Area win over Lorena on the Fairfield diamond last year and took a series victory over Waco Connally in 2011 at the same facility.

Rusk defeated Fairfield in district play at the Fairfield softball venue as well.

The winner of the Rusk-Robinson series will advance to face either Lorena or Lufkin Hudson in the regional quarterfinal round late next week.