By Greg Brill - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Through injuries and a season full of losing, the James Wood baseball team has had to overcome plenty of adversity.
Still, the Colonels have remained focused on playing with more purpose and learning from their mistakes.
James Wood still had problems in the field (five errors) on Thursday night against Skyline, but pitcher Matt Copley got through it with only one bad inning to lift the Colonels to their second win, a 6-4 defeat of the Hawks at Bing Crosby Stadium.
For all the good that he did, Copley (2-4) blew a three-run lead by allowing Skyline to score all four runs and collect five of its six hits in the third inning to take a 4-3 lead. The Hawks proved to be strictly a one-inning team, though, as they would not get another hit until Ty Helmick singled with two outs in the seventh.
Ryan Settle followed with his foul pop-out to first to end the game, and the Colonels (2-10, 1-2 Northwestern District) could celebrate their first win since beating Jefferson (W.Va.) last month.
"In the third [inning], I just missed my spots high and they took advantage of it," Copley said. "They got ahold of a couple nice ones, but my team really picked me up and got me out of the inning. I hit my spots from then on."
Pitching counterpart and fellow junior Luke Pingley (1-3) of Skyline had a tough first inning and an even tougher fourth.
James Wood, which did not have first baseman Tyler Dick (separated shoulder) or top sub Tyler Murphy (broken leg) available, was aggressive right away against the tall right-hander. Drew Burnett worked a five-pitch walk leading the game off and Niko Bobadillo got a kind hop on his grounder to second, which skipped over the head of Eli McEathron for a hit and moved Burnett to third in the process.
One out later, Daniel Garber's safety squeeze up the first-base side scored Burnett and senior catcher Cody Vorous followed with his third homer of the season, a two-run shot into the netting in right-center for a 3-0 lead.
"[Pingley's] a real good pitcher and he did real well tonight," Vorous said. "It's, 'See the ball and hit the ball.' He had two strikes inside on me and he threw a fastball that didn't get as [inside] as he would have liked, I guess. It felt real clean and smooth coming off the bat."
For Copley, the long ball by his battery mate helped him have confidence to start well on the mound.
"That really picked us up and got us going hitting-wise," Copley said. "It kept me in the game."
Copley was smooth from the start, striking out the side in order in the first and needing just 18 pitches total to retire the first six Hawks.
Copley also got the first batter out in the third before the Hawks (3-9, 0-3) got hot. George Carter bounced a single up the middle and courtesy runner Joe Bass stole second. McEathron followed with a flare just fair down the right-field line for an RBI double, and Mike Accettullo tripled to the wall in center. The relay to third got away, and Accettullo trotted home with the tying run.
With two outs, Helmick chopped a single to right and Settle followed with a single to left, which got by Mitchell Prelip and allowed Helmick to score the go-ahead run. Copley finally got out of the inning by striking out Greg Strickland, Skyline's ninth batter of the third.
James Wood bounced right back by using its short game to rattle Pingley into a pair of fielding errors in the fourth.
With Scott Johnson on first, Prelip bunted up the first-base line. Pingley slipped as he fielded the ball, and both runners were safe. Recent junior varsity call-up Kyle Hevner followed with another bunt to Pingley, who wheeled and attempted to get the runner going to third. Instead, Pingley's throw was wild and Johnson came in to score. A wild pitch by Pingley allowed Prelip to score for a 5-4 James Wood lead before Pingley retired the next three batters to end the damage.
Like Copley, Pingley was dominant at times. In his 6 1/3 innings, Pingley held James Wood to four earned runs, six hits and struck out 11.
"What it comes down to is we've got to make those routine plays," Skyline coach Nick Sborz said. "There's no excuse for that. We've got to step and throw, and when they're giving us outs we've got to take them. They took advantage of our errors, so what can you do?"
Throughout the game, good things happened for the Colonels when they were able to put the ball in play. James Wood even pushed across an insurance run in the seventh when Burnett had a leadoff double, stole third on relief pitcher Bass, and scored on Brock Lockhart's sacrifice fly.
"We've struggled," James Wood coach Jared Mounts said. "We've lost close games, we've lost games by eight-plus runs. It's not easy to come out every day and keep working hard and keeping your attitude positive. But our guys have been doing that and I'm proud of them for that more than anything else.
"They're great kids and they never quit. They come out and keep battling."
Mounts was especially pleased that Copley bounced back after his one tough inning to compile nine strikeouts and no walks with his 89 pitches in a complete-game effort. Copley did hit back-to-back batters in the fifth with one out when the Hawks crowded the plate, but kept attacking the strike zone to retire the next two batters to pitch a scoreless inning.
"Of course, Matt's got some experience so he's going to bow his neck and give us what we need," Mounts said. "And he got some run support, so that always helps a pitcher when you can get some run support."
With Handley's 4-3 upset win at first-place Sherando on Thursday, Copley believes he and his teammates can feed off the fact that on any given night, any team in the Northwestern can be beat.
"Hopefully we'll get a [win] streak going," Copley said. "Every game matters to us, but district [games] are real important. Sherando's loss will really motivate us."