By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Homestanding Strasburg tries not to remember its game against George Mason earlier this season. The Rams, in the midst of a three-game stretch on the road, fell behind early on and couldn't escape defeat at the hands of the Mustangs.
Thursday's re-match, however, they won't soon forget. Behind three RBIs from right fielder Tyler Himelright, and another dominant performance from staff ace Zach Cover, Strasburg found revenge against the Mustangs, blanking George Mason, 4-0.
"That [earlier] game, I couldn't tell you the final score, we all just try to block it out," Himelright said, "but we just weren't ready to play that game. On the road, it was just kind of an exhausted-type thing. [Mason] was the only team that beat us in the district and we knew they were a good team, and I think we all got pretty pumped beforehand and knew we had to win this one."
That contest ended 3-0 in favor of the Mustangs, but this matchup had more than just bragging rights on the line. If the Rams won, they would force a tie with the Mustangs in the Bull Run District. If not, George Mason would carry a two-game district lead into the final two games. And early on, the game reflected a matchup between two teams battling at the top.
While Cover (8-1) was his usual self on the mound, allowing just two hits through the first five innings and fanning four hitters in the process, the Mustangs' Brian Lubnow was just as impressive. In the first three innings, Strasburg had managed just two hits as well, but had failed to bring either across the plate. That is, however, until the fourth inning.
After Klay Fogle and Michael Reynolds led off the frame with back-to-back walks, Connor Gorman reached on a bunt single to load the bases with no outs. And following a Mitchell Wilson strikeout, Himelright, the team's No. 9 hitter, stepped into the batter's box.
The situation had presented itself just two innings earlier for Himelright. Both Fogle and Reynolds had reached base to begin the frame, but the Rams couldn't capitalize, ending with a Himelright strikeout.
"The time before we had runners on base and what I did was unacceptable," Himelright said. "I just felt like I needed to do something."
That "something" turned into the game's clutch hit. Himelright smacked a double into right center field, clearing the bases and giving Strasburg a 3-0 lead. As Himelright strolled into second, Strasburg fans were cheering as his teammates came out of the dugout to greet the scoring runners. Himelright, however, admitted he had to take a few seconds to realize what had happened.
"It felt like a big pressure [had lifted]," he said. "I was kind of scared on second base because I wasn't thinking very well."
Himelright later scored to put Strasburg ahead 4-0 after four innings. And with Cover on the mound, that lead was as good as any.
"That was big-time right there," Cover said of Himelright. "We needed somebody to come up, get a hit in a clutch situation with some guys in scoring position, and he got the job done. That's why he's down there. He can swing it."
With Himelright's contribution, Cover made sure the lead stuck. The right-hander allowed just one hit over the final three innings, and with the help of his defense behind him, kept the Mustangs off the scoreboard. As Mason's Paul Weber grounded to second base for the final out, the usually reserved Cover let what little emotions he had escape, giving Wilson a celebratory glove tap, and at the same time realizing that his team was now back in the driver's seat for a district championship.
"I don't know if you can call it pressure, but I was just kind of jazzed up," Cover said. "You've got to try and come into this game feeling confident and normally that'll go a long way. We needed that one, big time. To lock up the tie in the district, that was a really big win for us. We really needed it."