By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Northwestern District softball teams had played six games throughout the week, all decided by one run.
In the last game of the week, second-seeded Skyline smashed the one-run mold with a 15-3 stomping of third-seeded Millbrook in the second district tournament semifinal contest Saturday afternoon at Skyline.
Skyline played 11 innings on Friday night, losing to Sherando, 3-2, in the regular season one-game playoff.
Skyline freshman pitcher Sarah Beamer pitched the entire 11 evenings and had an up-and-down first inning against Millbrook as she walked Stephanie Curry on a 3-2 pitch, hit Krysten Bleth with a pitch, and walked Laci Costello on a 3-1 count. Several of Beamer's pitches were in the dirt, with some bouncing far in front of the plate.
Senior catcher Julie Shifflett was having trouble behind the plate as Curry and Bleth advanced bases on a passed ball and Curry scored on a subsequent passed ball. Costello then scored on a wild pitch, giving the Pioneers a 2-0 lead without a hit.
Beamer then struck out the next three batters. She finished with a complete game, yielding three runs on two hits, with 16 strikeouts and only five walks. Five of the last six Millbrook outs were Beamer strikeouts.
"I was just a little rusty from last night, but I just got in my grove and moved," Beamer said. "I didn't [change my technique], I was just ready to win the game."
"After coming off that game last night, as many pitches as [Beamer] threw, I figured she was going to struggle a lit bit with location today, and she did," Skyline head coach Richard Armstrong said. "All season long she's just battled like crazy for us and that's all you can ask of anybody, and she had a good ballgame today."
Skyline junior Ashley Thomas replaced Shifflett behind the plate in the second inning. There was only one more passed ball, in the seventh inning.
In the bottom of the first, Millbrook senior pitcher Amber Wells walked lead-off batter Mandy Poe on a 3-2 count, Casey Henry's sac-bunt advanced Poe to second. Beamer popped out.
Wells then walked Sabrie Neeb and Taylor Henry to load the bases. Shifflett hit a routine grounder that went off Alexis Lebiche's glove into left field, allowing Poe and Neeb to cross the plate.
With a 1-2 count on Kaitlyn Robinson, Wells threw a wild pitch and Taylor Henry hustled across the dish for the third Skyline run without a hit, going one better than Millbrook. Robinson then grounded out to end the inning.
The Hawks used a more conventional offensive style in the second inning to produce three more runs with two outs.
Poe drew her second walk, followed by a single to right by Casey Henry, advancing Poe to third, with Henry taking second on the throw-in.
Then came double trouble for Millbrook as Beamer doubled to center, scoring Poe and Henry, and Neeb doubled to left plating Beamer.
"I didn't hit the ball at all last night, so I really needed to get my hitting right on track for Tuesday night," Neeb said.
Wells retired the side in the third and Skyline picked up a run in fourth when Wells hit lead-off batter Tommi Micheal, who advanced to third on two passed balls, and was driven home by Poe's sac-fly to right.
Millbrook picked up its third run in the third inning when Curry led off with a single to center. Bleth then bunted down the third-base line and third baseman Neeb tossed her out at first, with Poe covering. Poe then overthrew third base trying to get the advancing Curry, who scored the Pioneers' last run.
The Hawks soared high and far, batting around in both the fifth and sixth innings, picking up five tallies on four singles and a double, a hit batsman and an error in the fifth.
In their last at-bat, Skyline added three more runs on three singles and three walks.
Casey Henry came up with the bases loaded and worked Wells to a 3-2 count, before drawing an RBI walk.
"I did think about [hitting a grand slam]," Casey Henry said. "It was definitely in my mind. [Ahead 15-3] it wouldn't be that big a deal if I over-swung. [Wells] was getting a little tired at the end of the game and she wasn't giving us the strikes that we wanted. We were really fired up to win this game tonight, after last night."
Beamer was, again, the ninth batter in the inning and hit her third consecutive fly-out to end the inning.
The Hawks were led Casey Henry (3-for-3, two singles, double, sacrifice, walk, two RBIs, run), and Neeb (3-for-3, two singles, double, walk, two runs, RBI).
"It was nice to have a lot of company [at the third base coaches' box] today, we haven't had that a whole lot lately," coach Armstrong said.
"We only have one pitcher, so we went all season, every pitch, every inning with her, and there comes a point [when], as to the other team, there's only so much you can throw," Millbrook head coach Michelle Long said. "Amber [Wells] did a heck of a good job for us the entire season. It just wasn't our day.
"I don't consider .500 a successful season, but last year we won only three games, so we are definitely making progress. I've got a lot of young talent in my JV program that has come and stepped up with us today. It's time to reload and put some newer faces in there."
Skyline will play Sherando, for the third time in a week, in the district championship game on Tuesday at Skyline. Both squads have already qualified to advance to the Region II Tournament.