By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- The question posed to Madison County pitcher Jordan Aylor seemed to handcuff the junior just like she handcuffed Strasburg batters on Thursday night: Had she thrown a perfect game this season?
Aylor knew she had plenty of shutouts to her credit, but 21-up and 21-down? That was a whole new vibe.
Aylor tossed a perfect game at the Rams and Anna Kelliher's two-out, two-run single in the sixth inning helped the Mountaineers break through, going on to a 2-0 win at Sandy Hook Elementary School to wrap up the Bull Run District softball regular season title.
Madison County coach Jesse Yowell finally provided the answer a few others could not give and confirmed that Aylor got her first "perfecto." Aylor seemed even more amazed when informed that she made 56 of 65 pitches for strikes, working the strike zone well throughout and picking up velocity as the game got deeper.
So on was Aylor that she went to a two-ball count on batters only twice in the game.
"I didn't realize that," Aylor said. "Hitting the corners was the big thing, because if I had pitched it down the middle they would have [hit it] every single time."
Perhaps not. The Rams are still looking for their first hit against Aylor. She allowed just one baserunner -- on a walk -- in the first meeting on April 27, also a 2-0 win by Madison County (16-4, 9-1 Bull Run).
"Since the middle of the season, it's like she's been in her prime," Yowell said of Aylor, who has nine shutouts in district play. "She's been focused and ready to go."
The Mountaineers needed to bounce back fast after getting beat 5-2 at Clarke County on Wednesday. A Strasburg win Thursday and a Clarke County win today at Rappahannock County would have created a three-way tie for first and a coin flip to decide seedings would have been needed.
"We were ready for revenge and we knew that everybody was going to come out [after] us since we're the No. 1 team," Aylor said. "We were prepared for this game."
As it stands, Madison County will be the top seed and will at least host the semifinal round. Strasburg (10-10, 7-3) will be the third seed and entertain Manassas Park at 7 p.m. on Monday in the quarterfinal round.
Yowell said his team was itching to get back in the win column after not only losing but giving up a run to a district opponent for the first time in the loss to the Eagles. The first-season head coach said his team was focused and very business-like on the bus ride over to Thursday's crucial game.
And though his team left six runners on base through five innings, Yowell hoped his team still had something left in the late innings to finally get a run across against Strasburg pitcher Katlyn Ayers.
"Their pitcher does good," Yowell said. "I mean, she must do a good job of moving the ball very well in and out."
Ayers allowed just five hits and struck out eight, but the sophomore did give up seven free passes, including five walks.
The Rams kept themselves in the game much of the way by making plays behind Ayers. Madison County threatened for three straight innings, beginning in the third, only to come up short.
Strasburg catcher Tiffany Milgrim picked Caitlyn Ford off at first base with ease to end the third, with Brooklyn Rush applying a nifty snap-tag for the out. To lead off the fourth, Aylor launched the game's first hit -- a double to the gap in right-center. Aylor never stopped wheeling and rounded second just as the relay was getting back to the infield. Strasburg second baseman Bethaney Fauber turned and threw to Samantha St. Clair, who blocked the third-base bag well and tagged a sliding Aylor out.
A two-out triple down the third-base line two batters later by Chelsea Shifflett would have plated Aylor, had the Rams not executed the relay so well. Shifflett was left stranded when Ayers got Karri Carpenter to fan on a riser.
Ayers, who made 135 pitches and did not retire the side in order in any inning, again ran into trouble in the fifth by loading the bases with two outs. However, Aylor hit a routine fly to center that Casey Spiker hauled in for the third out.
"Our defense has held up for us all year," Strasburg coach Suzanne Mathias said. "It's been one [hit] against [Madison County] both times that has cost us. Maybe we can see them again [in the playoffs]. It's hard to beat a [good] team three times."
Madison County finally broke through in the sixth. Ayers got two easy outs to begin the inning but walked pinch-hitter Timberly Deane. Megan Clark singled into center, bringing Kelliher to the plate. Batting No. 8 in the lineup, Kelliher, who homered at Clarke County on Wednesday, lined a two-strike pitch to deep center that Spiker never got a good beat on.
Kelliher's single went for two RBIs, as Deane and Clark both scored the game's only runs on the hit.
"That was my pitch," Kelliher said. "It was down the middle and right where I love it. It gave me some relief for the rest of the game because I knew our defense was on tonight. I knew if we could get a run in, we had it."
Mathias said she had hoped to get the Mountaineers to bite again on Ayers' riser, which she was able to use to get plenty of outs during the course of the game.
"I gambled a little bit there with throwing the high-ball and the girl hitting it," Mathias said. "It's a matter of taking chances. You know, we've got to take some chances and either they pan out or they don't."
Given a two-run lead, Aylor knew the rest was up to her. Early in the game, Aylor got two outstanding fielding plays from second baseman Clark to keep perfection going. Rush's pop-fly to shallow center was chased down by Clark, who made a snow-cone catch for the final out of the first. Rush was the victim again to end the fourth, with her sinking liner snagged by Clark.
"My defense had my back for sure tonight," Aylor said. "Then when Anna had that [game-winning] hit, I was ready to finish."
As the game got closer to an end and Aylor finally had some run support, the Rams had little chance. Aylor got five of her eight strikeouts in the last two innings, and struck out the side in the seventh to finish things off.
Now Yowell hopes his team can get another shot at Clarke County.
"The girls are looking forward to a rematch with Clarke," Yowell said. "Yep. We'll see them in the district tournament anyway."
Of course, the Mountaineers could see Strasburg, instead. Barring a major upset, Strasburg should advance on Monday to possibly face Clarke County later next week in the semifinal round. The Rams and Eagles split their two games, each winning 1-0 on the other's field.