By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline's Luke Pingley was a picture of command on the mound at Bing Crosby Stadium on Wednesday night.
The imposing right-hander seemed loose and relaxed through seven shutout innings in a 2-0 win against rival Warren County, rarely facing much trouble from the Wildcats.
Turns out, Pingley wasn't feeling free and easy at all. The junior opened his starting assignment low on energy, hurling a curveball that came and went, and with his pitching mechanics basically a mess.
But he did keep something in mind that did ease any potential anxiety over not having his best stuff against Warren County (3-3).
"I felt confident tonight because my defense was playing really well behind me," Pingley said. "I knew my mechanics weren't going very well. I had to use my legs more at the end of the game.
"My curveball wasn't going too good for me tonight, even though I had a few good ones that I got lucky on."
Although Pingley did have eight strikeouts, he seemed content with pitching to contact against the Wildcats. Warren County put the ball in play with regularity, and often hit the ball with some authority against Pingley. But Skyline played a flawless defensive game behind him, and even made a couple of potentially tough plays look routine.
"That's what we try to do sometimes," Hawks coach Nick Sborz said. "Instead of trying to blow it by guys, we'll pitch to contact. We've got seven other guys behind Luke there, and we trust our defense."
After allowing just two runners past first base through the first six innings, Pingley's night got a bit more interesting in the bottom of the seventh. The Wildcats' Ryan Tierney led off with a sharp single to center field, and one out later Pingley uncorked a wild pitch on a swinging third strike to pinch hitter Frank Barrientez. Tierney took two bases on the play, ending up at third.
Pingley made sure he didn't get any further by striking out Kit Schindler to close out the win for Skyline (1-4).
"We believed right to the very end that we were going to break through," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said, "but [Pingley] threw well, and tonight it just didn't go our way."
The Wildcats wasted a strong effort from their starting pitcher, sophomore Tyler Moody, who delivered a complete-game effort. The Hawks put the pressure on from the start, as Mike Accettullo led off the game with an infield single after beating the throw to first by a step.
Travis Custer laid down a sacrifice bunt to move Accettullo to second, and one out later Ty Helmick came through with an RBI single to center.
Accettullo burned the Wildcats again in his next at-bat, as he led off the top of the third with a triple off the wall in left-center. Custer followed with an RBI single to center to put Skyline ahead by two runs.
That cushion was plenty for Pingley, who stranded runners over the next three innings, including Connor Hutzell at second in the fourth inning after the Wildcats catcher hit a two-out double.
"I just told the kids there's not really anything negative I can say about our performance," Mathews said. "For most of the game, I thought we hit the ball hard. Unfortunately we hit it right at them, and they made the plays."
It proved to be a busy night for the Hawks' outfield, especially right fielder Joe Bass and left fielder Rodney Custer. Each finished with three catches and, along with center fielder Travis Custer, covered plenty of ground for Skyline.
"They work hard in practice, and we get live reads off the bat every day in batting practice," Sborz said of his outfielders. "They don't take it lightly, and it pays off. What you do in practice is what you're going to do in the game."
Bass added a pair of doubles to join Accettullo and Helmick with two hits apiece for Skyline, which picked up its first win of the season from the visitor's dugout at the field they share with the Wildcats.
"It felt weird tonight, but maybe it's our lucky night there -- playing on the visitor's side at the Bing," Pingley said. "It felt good."