By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The question wasn't which pitcher would find success on the mound.
All season long, both Skyline's Sara Beamer and Warren County's Nicole King have been nothing short of dominant, with King's record standing at 4-1 and Beamer's a perfect 3-0.
The real question Wednesday night was which pitcher would slip first? Even if just for one batter, which pitcher would make that one crucial mistake that would allow the other team to score?
Early on, that question wasn't easily answered. Through five innings of work, Beamer and King had allowed just three hits and combined for 19 strikeouts in a scoreless game. But in the bottom of the sixth inning, Beamer misstepped, offering up a fastball directly over the plate to Warren County catcher Taylor Bass. Bass didn't miss.
The sophomore smacked the pitch deep into center field, sending it over Skyline outfielder Kaitlin Robinson's head and to the outfield wall. Teammate Caity Thompson, who had been perched on second base, raced around third, then came in to score as Bass traded spots with her at second. The RBI double proved to be the difference-maker as the Wildcats won a thrilling pitcher's duel, 1-0 over the Hawks.
"It was indescribable," an ecstatic Bass said of the game-winning hit. "This was our first time beating them on our home field in the middle of the season, so it feels great. I thought maybe I had the chance at the home run because [the ball] felt really good off the bat, but it still feels great."
The winning hit was a dramatic finish to an otherwise defensive-minded game between two rivals. In the first inning, both Beamer and King struck out the side, then picked up two more strikeouts in the second. After King stuck out the side again in the third, Beamer's campaign for a no-hitter was broken up when freshman Brianna Caison singled up the middle to give Warren County (5-1) its first base runner. Caison wouldn't move from first, however, as Beamer got out of the inning with ease, keeping the game scoreless through three innings.
"For me, I didn't have much time in the box," Bass said. "You get in and it's coming so you've got to react really quickly. What we've seen so far is not as quick as [Beamer] is so we had a rough time in the beginning."
With Beamer's attempt at a no-hitter gone, King's shot didn't last much longer, as the Hawks (4-1) got their first hit in the fourth inning, a single from third baseman Sabrie Neeb. That would turn out to be the only blemish for King, who improved to 5-1 with the win.
"I thought I pitched a good game," King said. "[The umpire] wasn't calling much behind the plate and I still had a good amount of strikeouts, so I think it was a good game."
The Wildcats got close to scoring in the fourth inning after Bass hit a double with one out to put herself in scoring position. When a wild pitch sent her to third, it seemed Beamer's bid for a shutout was next to fall. The freshman wasn't ready to give up the lead, however, as she struck out the next two batters, again escaping the jam and keeping the game scoreless.
But while Beamer and King were piling up the strikeouts, it was the defenses behind them that helped keep both offenses off the board. Warren County's Nikki Hutzell made a leaping catch in left field to prevent a base hit in the fifth inning, while Neeb was a vacuum on the corner for the Hawks, keeping several ground balls from leaving the infield.
"I was very pleased defensively," Warren County coach Justin Stock said. "We know [King] is going to get her fair share of strikeouts, but tonight was the most any team has put the ball in to play and they've got a couple of good hitters. It was really the first time some of our outfielders have been tested and I thought we did a good job across the board."
Through five innings it was clear it would likely take just one run to win. Sure enough, Bass's RBI double in the bottom of the sixth inning put the Wildcats ahead, and a 1-2-3 inning from King in the top of the seventh closed the door on Skyline's chance for the win, giving the Warren County sophomore the upper hand in Wednesday's pitching duel.
"Well, we came in knowing it was going to be a close ballgame and they took advantage of some mistakes that we made," Skyline coach Richard Armstrong said. "As far as Sara and Nicole, I feel like they showed why they're two of the best pitchers in this area."