By Brian Eller - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- In the bottom of the seventh inning, Ryan Tierney stepped into the batter's box, ready for his chance to be the hero.
The score was tied at 3, and Warren County had two runners in scoring position. Catcher Connor Hutzell was at second. Left fielder Cody Zimmerman, the potential winning run, stood just 90 feet away.
The situation wasn't anything new for the Wildcats. In fact, they had already been here three times before, with chances to score in the first, third and sixth innings, with only one run to show for it. Tierney himself had already missed two earlier opportunities to drive in a run. After two strikeouts and a flyout, it seemed he wasn't meant to play the role of team hero.
This time, however, he would not come up short. As Clarke County pitcher Jon Owens delivered a fastball, Tierney smacked it back up the middle of the infield. Shortstop Jesse Smoot tried to field it, but the ball was hit so sharply, it bounced off him, allowing Tierney to reach first, but more importantly, sending Zimmerman home for the winning run as Warren County defeated Clarke County, 4-3.
"This is my third year in the program and I think this is the first time we've come back to win a game in the seventh inning," Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. "I told the guys [afterward] our offensive execution in key situations was lacking. When you have bases loaded and you've got five or six guys coming up we've got to get something in. We had two or three situations early in the game where we should've gotten some runs, but we finally broke through there in the seventh."
Early on it seemed the game was going to be a slugfest, as both pitchers struggled to take command. Both teams scored a run in the first inning, as Ethan Emmart knocked in Smoot for Clarke County (3-2) while shortstop Tyler Post scored on a single from Logan Hibbs for the Wildcats (1-2). The Eagles answered right back in the top of the second, scoring two more runs off of Warren County starter Tyler Moody, putting the visitors ahead, 3-1.
"I've only pitched once in the past three months because of the long winter," Moody said, "so there was definitely some rust and that's probably where some of my nerves came from. But once I settled down, after about 30 or 40 pitches I started getting into the groove."
His "groove" came in the form of an effective change-up, which he switched to when he realized his curveball wasn't landing where he wanted it to. The sophomore was efficient at getting out of trouble, as the Eagles had runners on base in four of the final five innings, only to come up short each time.
Emmart, meanwhile, kept his team out in front, sharpening his delivery and allowing just four hits over the next four innings. He allowed a run in the fifth inning, but left his team in position for the win.
"Our pitching did a great job," Clarke coach Jon Novick said. "There's nothing bad I can say about our pitching. Even in the last inning when he let the runner get on and we gave up the run, he got what we needed to end the inning and get us back up to bat. But we had way too many strikeouts. I don't know, I don't think I want to know right now, but we had way too many strikeouts today. There's no other way about it."
Finally, in the seventh inning, Warren County broke through. Trailing 3-2, Post reached base on a walk, then moved to third on a errant throw by Smoot, giving the Wildcats runners at the corners with one out. Post tied the game on a sacrifice fly from Hibbs, setting up the final chance for Tierney to win the game.
"Well until today he was 6-for-6 with seven RBI, so he's been crushing the ball," Mathews said. "Their pitcher did a good job of mixing it up, but I felt confident about him up there, He's been the best hitter for us this season and I just told him to relax and he did."