By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- After one trip through an opponent's batting order, Amanda Lutz has a pretty good idea of what she's facing when a hitter steps into the batter's box.
The name and number are familiar, sure, but Lutz is already starting to go deeper than that. She's learning her opponent's strengths, her tendencies and her faults. By the time an opposing hitter is up again, the Sherando pitcher already has the advantage.
And unfortunately for Skyline's hitters, facing Lutz for the third time in a week's span gave her a considerable advantage.
"I can remember certain batters," Lutz said. "[Last time] we were watching their weaknesses, Lexi [Meeker] and I. By now we know where to pitch it, what they're going to swing at ... but it's hard, too, because after so many times they usually know what's coming."
Skyline's hitters may have known what was coming, but Lutz knew them better, guiding Sherando to a 4-1 win over the Hawks on Tuesday and helping the Warriors capture the Northwestern District tournament championship.
"Lutz is a workman," Sherando coach Garry Sawyer said. "She's not a flashy pitcher, she's not going to be the pitcher that goes in there and strikes out 13, 14 batters. She's a workman. She moves the ball around, she makes you hit bad pitches -- so sometimes we understand there's going to be runners on, but that's her style."
The junior started out strong, retiring the first seven batters before an error allowed a Skyline hitter to reach base in the third inning. Skyline's starter Sarah Beamer, meanwhile, matched Lutz's success through the first frame, but ran into trouble in the second inning.
After striking out the side in the opening inning, Beamer plunked Alex Lopp with one out in the second, putting the first runner on for the Warriors. Following a walk to Meeker, Beamer and catcher Julie Shifflett suffered some miscommunication that resulted in two passed balls, one of which allowed Lopp to dash home for the game's first run.
With Meeker over to second on the passed ball, Lacie Taylor drew a walk, giving Sherando two runners on with still just one out. Erica Doyle then hit an RBI single up the middle and Sam Musser followed with a double to left field to give Sherando a 3-0 lead. A sacrifice groundout from Lutz helped Musser score, part of a four-run inning for the Warriors.
"[Sarah] kind of struggled there in the second inning," Skyline coach Richard Armstrong said. "[She] hit the first hitter, walked the second hitter and that's something that's usually not like her, particularly after she's coming off of an inning where she struck out all three hitters, but she settled down after that."
Beamer did settle down, allowing just two hits over the final four innings. But Lutz had already settled in, and the damage had already been done. The Hawks' offense started to generate some momentum in the later innings, putting at least one runner on in four of the last five innings. In the fifth inning, Skyline strung together three hits in the frame, as Kaitlin Robinson, Joanna Brown and Casey Henry all singled, with Henry's base hit bringing Robinson in to score.
That would be as close as the Hawks would get, however, as Lutz shut the door after Skyline put two runners on in the seventh inning, giving the Warriors the win.
"I was kind of like, 'I know we have to win this,' and I was confident letting them hit," Lutz said. "I know my defense was going to back me up no matter what. The defense was amazing today, making the plays even when I wasn't making the pitches to be made."