By Greg Brill - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Getting the last out had the Handley baseball team jumping for joy.
When Skyline's Mike Accettullo was retired on his grounder to short, only then could the Judges breathe a collective sigh of relief. The Judges won 12-10 in the nearly three-hour ballgame played on a damp Tuesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"We jumped out early, then [Skyline] really turned it on in the sixth inning," said Handley first baseman Nolan Potts, who knocked in the go-ahead run in the seventh after Skyline had tied the game an inning earlier. "We just had to hang in there, because it's a big [Northwestern] District win."
Handley (3-7, 1-1) was rolling along, holding a 7-0 lead heading to the bottom of the sixth inning. But Skyline, held to three hits through five, exploded with a seven-run sixth to tie the game.
Not to be outdone, the Judges came right back with five runs in the seventh. Skyline (3-5, 0-1) kept the bats hot in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three times and getting the potential tying run on base before the last out was recorded.
"I just don't think any lead is safe in our district," Handley coach Eddie Simmons said. "The teams are going to come out and swing the bat. They're capable of swinging the bat, every team is capable of scoring runs at any time. I didn't like to see it at that particular time [in the late innings], but it's not like we gave it away. [Skyline] came out and swung the bats. You give them credit for finding a way to get back in the game when it looked like it might have gotten away from them."
Having suffered lopsided losses in its previous two games, Handley did not let Skyline's breakout sixth ruin a chance at regaining the lead.
Aubrey Wilkerson drew a one-out walk in the seventh to get the Judges rolling. Shawn Kelly bunted up the third-base side and reached safely, moving Wilkerson to third. Potts followed by sending a hard chop to short that shot high over Accettulo's shoulder and into the outfield for an RBI single and an 8-7 lead.
"I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere," Potts said. "I mean, I kept hitting it to the shortstop all night and I guess I got a lucky hop. I was just trying to get down to first. I figured it was just a [routine] ground ball."
The Judges got their final runs to cross on Cody Crenshaw's single up the first-base side, a suicide squeeze by Jacob Rudolph, and a single by Cory Crenshaw that also saw a second run score when the hit got by in the outfield.
"I've said it all year long -- our group is going to come out and fight you," Simmons said. "They do anything they can to find a way to win. They're going to do that until the last out is made in the seventh inning."
Potts took over in the bottom of the seventh after Cody Unger, who got the win in relief, walked leadoff batter Ryan Settle. Ty Helmick then hit a sure double-play grounder to short that was booted, leaving both runners safe. A walk to Michael Litwin loaded the bases before Potts retired David Thomas on a fly to left, which plated Settle.
After striking out pinch-hitter Joe Bass for the second out, Potts gave up a single to Rodney Custer and a two-RBI single up the middle by Barry Smallwood that cut Handley's lead to 12-10.
However, Potts forced Accettullo, who had two hits in Skyline's seven-run rally in the sixth, to tap out to short to end the game.
"We couldn't let this one slip away late, especially after having a seven-run lead," Potts said. "I was just trying to throw strikes and let my defense help me out there. I'm not a strikeout pitcher. Ideally, we pitch to contact. Our defense hasn't been playing well the last few games, but they were solid [only two errors] tonight."
For five innings, it was all Handley. Handley starter Sean Goodson pitched shutout ball and the Judges took advantage of shaky fielding by the Hawks (six errors in the game) to move out to a 7-0 lead.
"I had [Goodson] at 82 pitches [he actually threw 80] and 85-90 is about his limit," Simmons said. "He was throwing the off-speed pitches for strikes. When he does that, he has an opportunity to win ballgames."
Skyline starter Luke Pingley could not overcome four errors behind him, which led to three of the five runs he gave up being unearned. Pingley (seven strikeouts) made 98 pitches in his five innings, but did not figure in the decision.
"His pitch count got up there and [Pingley] was trying to do everything himself [because of the errors]," Skyline coach Nick Sborz said. "He was trying to overthrow a little bit. You know, he didn't have trust in his defense like he normally does. But hat's off to [Handley]. They took advantage. They put the ball in play, put the pressure on, and we did not respond [until late]."
Skyline broke out big in the sixth. Helmick and Accettullo each had two-run singles and Thomas and Custer also knocked in runs with hits.
"You'd like to start that a little bit early, not wait until the sixth inning to hit the baseball and score runs," Sborz said. "We had won our last three before this, so we took a step back tonight."
Kelly, Potts, Unger, and Cody Crenshaw all had two hits apiece for the Judges. Accettullo, Settle, and Custer each collected two hits apiece for the Hawks.