By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
HARRISONBURG -- Caitlin Cummins has seen enough of Luray pitcher Jennifer Jewell this season to have a pretty good idea of her repertoire, and when she likes to use it.
So when Jewell unleashed a tantalizingly slow changeup in the first inning of Wednesday's Shenandoah District softball tournament semifinal, the Central sophomore right fielder guessed it was coming. That didn't help, as Jewell's offering could better be termed a freeze ball as Cummins just couldn't bring herself to swing.
Lesson learned, for Cummins. In two other trips to the plate, she punished Jewell's offerings for run-scoring hits to help the Falcons break loose for a 10-1 victory at James Madison University's Veterans Memorial Stadium.
"I knew it was going to be a changeup -- I was expecting it -- but it was inside," Cummins said of her first at-bat. "I wasn't sure if he was going to call it a strike or not, but I probably should have swung at it. It happens. And I came back later on."
That she did on her next trip up to the plate in the third inning, swatting a single into right field with the bases loaded to start a four-run rally and erase a 1-0 Luray lead.
Central (11-7) tacked on another run on a Bulldogs error in the fourth, then Cummins went to work again in the sixth. With the bases loaded once more, Cummins turned on Jewell's fastball and stroked a double into left field for two more RBIs. That was part of a five-run outburst for the Falcons that effectively sealed their invitation to next week's Region B tournament. Central faces top-seeded Page County in today's championship, but both teams advance regardless of the outcome.
"Central hasn't done that in a really long time," Cummins said. "We were just ready to come out here and win because we wanted to do something Central hasn't done in a while."
All that run support was a luxury Falcons starter Brea Hinegardner hardly needed against Luray (10-10). After allowing Megan Hilliard's first-inning RBI single, Hinegardner didn't give up her second and final hit until the top of the fifth.
"I was definitely expecting a small-ball game with a lot of bunting, since they did that against us last time," Hinegardner said. "I think we prepared well for the bunt and obviously made the stops because they couldn't get it down. I think we prepared well for this game."
Luray coach Charlie Turner wouldn't disagree with Hinegardner's assessment. Determined to jump-start the offense via the bunt, Turner several times gave up easy outs by calling on his hitters to lay one down with two strikes without success.
"I think three times I made them bunt on two strikes, but in the last three games we've probably bunted a half-dozen times with two strikes and got it down perfect. It's just that [Hinegardner's] rise ball comes in and when it jumps up, they still try to hit it and they just fouled it off.
"They took our small ball away from us. We didn't execute. I think if we would have executed the way we have been the last few games, we would have been OK."
Luray, which split the regular-season series with the Falcons, was in a hole before the game even began when starting first baseman Jennifer Kelly was injured during warm-ups and had to take a trip to the hospital after getting hit with a deflected ball.
Hinegardner, who finished with seven strikeouts, also helped herself at the plate with a hit and three walks. Tayler Cooper and Sarah Mastrangelo added two hits apiece in the win.
Central coach Jill Yew was happy to see the Falcons put together a balanced attack against Luray. Central finished with 10 hits overall.
"They didn't roll over and give up," Yew said, "which is good, because in some games we have a tendency to fall by the wayside and that didn't happen."