By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
QUICKSBURG -- The Central softball team has longed for a game like this all season.
Sure, the Falcons can usually count on veteran pitcher Brea Hinegardner to throw strikes and keep opponents to a few runs each time out.
But the offense? Runs have been hard to come by for Central in a sub .500 season. That was, until Tuesday night.
The Falcons broke out in a big way, setting season-bests for runs and hits in a 19-1 romp over Shenandoah District rival Stonewall Jackson at North Fork Middle School.
"We were all due," said Hinegardner, who collected four hits, drove in five runs and tossed a complete-game four-hitter. "We haven't been hitting well, so that's a great accomplishment. We really didn't have a bad inning. We were seeing the ball well, and that was a big key."
In an attempt to rejuvenate her team at the plate, Central coach Jill Yew has moved several hitters around in the batting order. The new-look Falcons (5-7, 3-2 Shenandoah) came out swinging, putting up seven runs in the first two innings and closing with seven runs on nine hits in the seventh.
Central had offense throughout its lineup, and put up 20 hits against Stonewall Jackson.
"A lot of them I have moved around because we just were not hitting," Yew said. "I was very happy to see today that they came around. Not just one of them -- all of them came around. Everyone hit well and put the bat on the ball, which is a positive thing for us.
"It was very good to see. Mentally, we were there today. We had some mental errors on Friday [in a one-run loss at Luray], as well, which I was glad to see didn't carry over into today. I told them [in the post-game], 'This is a good feeling. Just take this feeling, and we need to continue to ride with it.'"
Stonewall Jackson pitcher Samantha Somers, who was touched for 15 earned runs, started well by getting Tayler Cooper on a called strike three to begin the game.
But Hannah Schechtel doubled to right and came around to score following a three-base error on Sarah Mastrangelo's infield grounder. Hinegardner had an RBI single to center, and the Falcons led 2-0 after a half-inning.
After Hinegardner retired the Generals (1-12, 0-5) in order in their half of the first, Central put up a five-run second to allow Hinegardner an early safety-net.
The Falcons batted around for the first time and scored five runs on five hits. Central got a run to come across on a throwing error, but four runs were produced by hits. Hillary Gochenour (2-for-4, two RBIs, two runs scored) had an RBI single, Mastrangelo (2-for-5, three RBIs, four runs scored) tapped a two-run single up the middle and Hinegardner had an RBI double to left for a 7-0 lead.
"That's very difficult to bounce back from," Stonewall Jackson coach Mike Hunt said. "Jill [Yew] does a good job with Central's softball team and they weren't about to let us bounce back from that. Our margin for error is very slim."
A four-run fourth sent the lead to double-digits. Two hits highlighted the inning for Central. In her third at-bat, Hinegardner ripped a two-run homer to center -- her first blast of the season.
"I kind of golfed it out," Hinegardner laughed. "It was good, finally."
Later in the inning, Allie Lockhart showed her speed. Lockhart's fly to right was misjudged, and the sophomore ended up on third with an RBI triple.
The game provided Lockhart a chance to show what she could do in a new spot. After spending some time at leadoff in earlier games and struggling to hit for average, Lockhart proved to be a tough out batting seventh for Central on Tuesday. In fact, Stonewall Jackson never did keep Lockhart off the basepaths.
The center fielder was a homer shy of the cycle, going 4-for-5, with two singles, a double, triple, two runs scored, and two RBIs.
"It felt great -- finally, my bat came around," Lockhart said. "I get really nervous [when hitting at the top of the lineup], so moving down in the lineup has helped my confidence [increase] a lot. I just stayed confident, got to the [batter's] box, said 'I'm going to hit,' and I did."
Lockhart's aggressiveness at the plate was not lost on Hinegardner. Lockhart reached base in each of her five plate appearances, and had three of her four hits on first or second pitches.
"I think our coaches moved Allie down to build up that confidence and have runners on base when she's up," Hinegardner said. "I think that's helped her out, moving her down in the lineup."
With such a big lead to pitch with, Hinegardner (5-5) cruised most of the way. The senior gave up back-to-back singles in the fourth before getting Cassie Conley to pop up for the second out. When she came to bat after Conley, Keyana Phelps asked for time just as Hinegardner was about to deliver a two-strike pitch. The next offering from Hinegardner was a change-up to fan Phelps for the third out.
Using location well -- she threw 51 of 72 pitches for strikes -- Hinegardner made few mistakes. She finally lost her shutout with one out in the sixth, when Haley Stover homered to center. But in registering a complete game, Hinegardner gave up one extra-base hit, no walks and struck out six.
"She threw well today," Yew said. "It's always nice to have a seven-run cushion early on, because you can see the difference in her poise when she's in the circle."
The Falcons closed with a bang. Lockhart had two hits in the seventh, and Sam Hedrick (3-for-5, two RBIs), Schechtel (her second sacrifice fly of the game), Hinegardner, Mikayla Viar and Makayla Hosaflook all collected RBIs.