By Dennis Atwood -- email@example.com
NEW MARKET -- After Thursday night's attempt to play was suspended due to periodic lightening in the middle of the first inning, and Friday's rescheduled game was rained out, the second seed Central Falcons and top seed Page County Panthers finally got to play the Shenandoah District baseball tournament championship game Saturday afternoon, at Rebel Park.
The Falcons had beaten the Panthers in both of their regular season matchups, but the Panthers capitalized on Central errors, passed balls, and wild pitches to score three unearned runs and grab a 4-3 win to earn the tournament trophy.
"We made too many errors," Central coach Donn Foltz said. "It's been a long week for us. I'm proud of 'em still. They did a good job. They never quit."
Page County starting pitcher C.J. Secrist retired the Falcons in order, including two strikeouts, in Thursday's engagement. Then a sequence of lightening strikes near James Madison University's War Memorial Stadium in Harrisonburg resulted in a suspension of play.
The JMU venue was not available Saturday, so the contest was moved to Rebel Park, a well-situated neutral venue.
The home-standing Panthers were up first in the resumption of play on Saturday and scored a run without getting a hit. Central starting pitcher Kohly Hawkins walked lead-off batter Sean Pangle, who was forced out on Ryan Baker's grounder to second.
After Timmy Cave drew a walk, Secrist, hitting clean-up, hit a cannon shot liner to center and Falcon centerfielder Daniel Bauserman made a fine catch, ranging far to his left.
Designated hitter Allen Cloude then hit a two-hopper that shortstop Sean Semones couldn't handle and the ball went into left field, allowing Baker to score on the error for an unearned run.
Hawkins continued to keep the Panthers hitless until two outs in the third inning, when Secrist and Cloude hit back-to-back two out singles.
Kenny Deavers grounded to short, forcing out Cloude to end the inning.
Juan Troncoso led off the Central fourth with a first-pitch double to deep left-center. Frank Kopa followed with line drive single to center, with Trancoso hesitating a short distance off second, unsure whether or not the ball would be caught, before advancing to third.
Kopa was caught stealing second, then Adam Marston then hit a fly to right, deep enough for Troncoso to tag up and score the Falcon's first run.
Central (8-11) had plenty of offensive action, but couldn't score, in the fifth frame. With one out, Bauserman was awarded first base on catcher interference. Secrist then issued his first walk of the game, on four straight balls, to Hawkins, and struck out Sean Semones on three pitches, before Seth Bauserman worked hard to earn a walk on a 3-2 count to load the bases.
Troncoso made contact on the next pitch, but it was a foul pop-out to first to end the inning.
The Panthers (14-7) got their second run in the fifth inning, without a hit, aided by two Falcon errors.
With one out, Cave hit a hot shot to third baseman James Brennan, who made a good try, but the ball went in and out of his glove and the error put Cave on first.
With a 2-2 count on Secrist, Cave stole second, and catcher Troncoso over-threw second as Cave advanced to third. Hawkins then fanned Secrist to record his only strikeout.
Cloude then worked Hawkins to a full count. Ball four was a passed ball and Cave crossed the plate as the ball bounced weakly off the backstop, to give the Panthers their second unearned run.
Central answered immediately as Kopa drew a walk to lead off the sixth and promptly stole second.
Marston stuck out, followed by Kyle Kelican's fly out to right, too shallow to allow Kopa to advance.
Brennan then sent a seeing-eye grounder up the middle, plating Kopa to knot the score at 2-2.
Secrist then struck out Daniel Bauserman to end the rally.
Although Hawkins had a fairly low pitch count of 71, Kopa took over mound duties for the Falcons in the sixth.
"Kohly [Hawkins] is my catcher," Foltz said. "He's got to be able to make throws to second base on Monday [in the Regionals]. He did a phenomenal job."
Page County showed they liked the change as Tyler Jenkins led off with a walk on four straight balls, but was thrown out trying to swipe second by Hawkins, who had taken over catching chores.
Brandon Hensley singled to right, then Gray was given Kopa's second free pass.
The runners advanced to second and third on a wild pitch to Pangle, who then hit a line drive to center, scoring Hensley to take a 3-2 lead, and the ball went under center fielder Daniel Bauserman's glove, enabling Gray to score the game-winning run, with Pangle advancing to third.
Baker then hit an improbable liner that hit the front edge of pitchers' rubber and rocketed about 20 feet straight up for an infield single.
Pangle stayed put at third, not knowing quite what had happened on the fluky hit.
Then Cave flew out and Secrist grounded out to retire the side.
Central showed it had plenty of fight left as Hawkins ripped a first-pitch single to center to lead off the seventh.
Cloude then relieved Secrist (three runs on six hits, seven strikeouts, and three walks, improving to 6-2 with the win) and issued a 3-1 walk to Semones, including two passed balls putting Hawkins on third.
"My off-speed pitch was the curve today," Secrist said. "I started out mostly with just fastballs, and about the third inning, I worked in the curve, and went to all fastballs again at the end."
Seth Bauserman then demonstrated another of his typical craftsman-like at bats, fouling off four pitches after reaching a 1-2 count, before launching a fly to right, deep enough for Semones to tag and score the Falcons' third run on a very close play at the plate.
With Troncoso at the plate, right-hander Cloude whirled and picked off Semones.
Troncoso then flew out to center to end the game as Cloude earned his second save.
"I was worried about the batter a lot and I didn't look over [to first] once," Cloude said. "I figured he had pretty good lead, and I didn't even look, I just threw it."
"The fact of the matter is [Cloude] practices his pick-off move a lot every week," Page County coach Jimmy Burke said.
"[Central] made some really nice plays on some hard-hit balls in the outfield, that kept the game close. I've just told our guys, 'I looked at the scoreboard, and five or six hits is all we had,' but I'm not disappointed. We had very few strikeouts [two]. We hit the ball hard."
Both squads have qualified for the Region B tournament.
On Monday, Central travels to George Mason for a 4 p.m. quarterfinal game, and Page County hosts Manassas Park at 7 p.m.