Offensively and defensively, Brooks Rushworth was a key player in the Panthers' quarterfinal sweep over Loreauville over the weekend.

Sterlington's postgame celebration upon clinching its quarterfinal series with Loreauville to earn a spot in the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA State Tournament lasted only slightly longer than usual. Then it was back to the normal routine — getting the field ready for the next practice.

One of the few remaining Loreauville players to file out of the visitors' dugout, shortstop Bryson Broussard approached Rushworth as he carried out his postgame chore of raking the first base area.

"Way to come up big for your team," Broussard said sincerely as the two shook hands.

Broussard's gesture, which was especially classy coming from a senior who had just played in his final high school game, summed up Rushworth's day.

The junior first baseman indeed came up big for his team in the Panthers' series-clinching, 5-1 Game 2 victory Saturday afternoon.

Rushworth's two-run double to the left-center gap highlighted a four-run fifth-inning after the Panthers stranded five runners through the first three frames.

"Coach (Mark) Sims was getting mad at us," Rushworth said. "I was just thinking, 'fastball, fastball, fastball.' It was right there and I put everything I had into it. I just wanted to do my job."

Rushworth's big hit opened up a 3-0 lead.

It's been a challenging year for Rushworth, who has battled shoulder issues. Injured midway through the regular season, the defensive end was on the sidelines for the Panthers' state championship football run after undergoing surgery to repair his right (throwing) shoulder.

Unable to throw, Rushworth began the season as the designated hitter. Just as he was beginning to feel comfortable with his right shoulder, he recently sat out a handful of games because of his left shoulder.

"I heard something pop, so I got it checked out," Rushworth said. "I had some problems with my left shoulder during football."

Rushworth, who started the past two seasons in right field, has settled in at first base, a position that is less taxing on his arm.

"I've played first a couple of times so it's not like it's new to me," Rushworth said. "It came pretty natural for me."

Rushworth handled his position with ease over the weekend, making two key plays in the Loreauville series.

With one out and Loreauville runners at the corners in the fourth inning of Friday's series opener, Rushworth snared a line drive off the bat of Jobe Hebert and stepped on the bag for the third out. Rushworth's unassisted double play preserved Sterlington's 6-0 lead in an eventual 8-1 win.

Shortly after delivering his clutch hit in Saturday's game, Rushworth soared to pull down a high throw from third baseman Dalton Dopson and applied the tag on Caleb Washington to end the bottom of the fifth.

"That was just instinct," Rushworth said. "When you get a high throw, you have to come down with the tag."

Rushworth and the Panthers are on their way to the State Tournament for the first time since 2010. Sterlington plays Kinder on Friday at 10 a.m. in the semifinals at Sulphur.

"Going to Sulphur means everything," Rushworth said. "Most of us have been playing together since the seventh and eighth grade, so I'm glad to be going to the State Tournament with them. It's going to be a fun experience."

Working his way back from injuries wasn't necessarily fun, but Rushworth — and his teammates — are reaping the benefits of the results.