By Greg Brill - email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- Nothing was going to keep Central's Brea Hinegardner from pitching against Strasburg.
Not when it was a rival in the other dugout.
Hinegardner, who has not been at full strength lately due to soreness with her pectoral muscle in her left (non-pitching) arm, came on to begin the second inning on Thursday and finished up a 9-6 non-district softball win for the Falcons by holding the Rams to four runs and striking out 12.
"The chiropractor was like, 'You've got to take this game off,'" Hinegardner said. "I was like, 'I can't do that.' It definitely was hurting, but towards the end [of the game] I kind of forgot about it."
After freshman Makayla Hosaflook gave up two first-inning runs, Central coach Jill Yew felt an urgency to get her veteran back in the pitching circle to help the Falcons gain confidence.
"We were 1-3 coming into this game and I don't want them to continue to have the 'lost' feeling," Yew said. "From being at Central for the past four years previous, when they get that [losing] feeling, sometimes it tends to stick. We needed a win so they can realize and get back to believing that, 'Hey, we are a good team.' The girls are very talented and we have 12 very talented kids. I just need them to make sure they understand that and be ready to work."
The Rams jumped to a 2-0 lead on RBI hits from Brooklyn Rush (double) and Tiffany Milgrim (single) before the Falcons came back with three runs in their half of the first against Allyson Ponn.
As they did throughout the early innings, Central (2-3) found different ways to score. Allie Lockhart drew a leadoff walk and went to third when the Rams had a fielding error on Mikayla Viar's bunt. With Sarah Mastrangelo at bat, Viar took off for second. Catching for the Rams, Milgrim faked a throw to second and gunned to Rush at third. Lockhart broke for home on the throw down and barreled into Milgrim on the return throw from Rush to the plate.
Though she fell back to the ground, Milgrim held on to the ball for the out and Lockhart was ejected for not sliding.
"I was expecting [a collision]," Milgrim said. "I saw her drop her shoulders, so I knew it was coming. You just use two hands and keep [the ball] in the glove."
"Tiff is a tough girl," Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said. "I mean, you could clearly see [Lockhart] coming in [hard]. I was confident Tiff could hold on to the ball."
Mastrangelo then grounded to third, and this time Viar beat the throw home for Central's first run. Ponn then walked a pair of batters with two outs later in the inning, and a single from Hannah Schechtel and a bases-loaded walk to Hillary Gochenour sent the Falcons up 3-2.
The Rams did make an inning-ending play on Hosaflook's grounder, but not before the Falcons had batted around.
In the second, Hinegardner knocked in one of the Falcons' two runs with a sacrifice fly. An inning later, Central put four more across to move to a 9-4 lead, getting five straight hits in the frame.
"We hit against Clarke County [in a 7-5 loss on Tuesday), which was a come-around because the first three games we were dead as far as offense was concerned," Yew said. "It was good because it was different kids today. That was very exciting to see and it's a good step in the right direction."
The Falcons had seven players score runs and Schechtel and Caitlin Cummins, who replaced Lockhart in the lineup, each had two hits for Central.
The Rams (1-4) also had success at times against Hinegardner. After striking out the side in the second, Hinegardner gave up a leadoff infield hit to Milgrim and a walk to Bethany Fauber. One out later, Ashleigh Smith sent a sinking liner down the right-field line just out of the reach of Hosaflook for a two-run triple.
In the fifth, the Rams put together a two-out rally with Rush's second double and a sharp RBI single to center by Milgrim to trail 9-5.
"You're doing fine, but then once they started scoring we started getting our heads down, which got our momentum down," said Milgrim, who went 3-for-3 with three RBIs. "But other than that, that's the only thing that kept us down. I thought we picked up on Brea quick."
Even though she did get touched for a few runs, Hinegardner made all the right pitches late. The senior allowed just an unearned run in the sixth and one single in each of the last three innings.
"Using different pitches in the end is definitely a strength," Hinegardner said. "Once they start catching up to the fastball, I definitely go to other pitches."
To close things down in the seventh, Hinegardner got Samantha St. Clair on a third-strike change-up and struck out Smith with a drop ball. Meghan Gum then hit into a force out to end the game.
"We had our opportunities -- we just didn't capitalize on it," Mathias said. "It's just something we've just got to keep working on."
When Mathias made a pitching change in the third and brought in sophomore Katlyn Ayers, the Falcons' bats went quiet. One of the two runners Ayers inherited scored, but no one else crossed in Ayers' 3 2/3 innings out of the bullpen.
A junior varsity pitcher last season, Ayers has divided the innings with Ponn as the two look to replace graduated two-year starter Lauren Stickles.
"If we can just get all of [Ayers'] pitches working, I think she'll be a stronger pitcher and shut [opponents] down even more so," Mathias said. "She's only a sophomore, so she just needs some time up here and see that the level of hitting is better."
Doing a good job of mixing speeds, Ayers did not allow a Central runner to reach scoring position, walked one, and struck out five.
Mathias was proud that her team hung in after its early adversity and competed well for an early-season game.
"I mean, it's the fourth game," Mathias said. "It's just seeing balls coming at you on the dirt instead of the gym floor. I think we're going to come around. They're working hard and I've told them that I am pleased with that."