By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- If you hit a granny in a social setting it's a gross transgression.
But hitting a "granny" in baseball is the supreme batting accomplishment, as it's the nickname for a grand slam home run -- four RBIs with a single swat of the bat.
And that's precisely what Strasburg Rams junior third baseman Connor Gorman did against the Clarke County Eagles on Friday evening, increasing Strasburg's lead to five runs on the way to a mercy rule-shortened 15-4 Bull Run District win.
Adding to the drama, Gorman's supreme swat came as he was the first batter to face Eagles relief pitcher Mark Unger, with two out in the top of fourth inning, on a ballfield he played on as an eighth-grade Clarke County student.
"That's my first home run in my high school career," Gorman said. "I actually used to play here [at Singhas Field] in the eighth grade, so it felt kind of good having my first home run here, especially having the grand slam."
The Rams were fresh off shutting out George Mason, 4-0, on Thursday night to gain a first-place tie with the Mustangs.
The Eagles got off to a quick start, with John Owens retiring the Rams in order in the top of the first and center fielder Drew Paice (2-for-3) bashing Rams starter Derek Buckley's first pitch as a line shot over the right-field fence.
Catcher Austin Jackson figured first-pitch swinging was a good idea, and stoked Buckley's next toss for a line-drive single to left field.
These game-opening events might have indicated that the Rams (16-3, 8-1 Bull Run) were cruising a bit after their big win over the Mustangs.
"Coach [Jeff Smoot] gave me a bit of a motivational speech out there on the mound," Buckley said. "It was either calm down or not be out there, so I just had to step it up. I used my basic mix, just fastballs and curveballs. I didn't locate very well today, but I got the job done."
"That was not how we wanted to start the game," Smoot said. "They got us out relatively easy, then two pitches in the bottom half, they've squared two balls up, and that's not what we had in mind. The combination of the location of [Buckley's] first pitch and the velocity was not a good combination. It was more like batting practice."
Buckley appeared to get the message as he then struck out Ethan Emmart on three pitches before Jesse Smoot reached on an error, Stanley Paice struck out and Vernon Matthews grounded out on an 0-2 pitch.
Buckley worked the entire five innings, yielding three runs (all earned) on five hits, six strikeouts, three hit batsmen and two walks, to improve his record to 4-0. He didn't issue his first walk until two outs in the fourth frame.
Buckley also contributed on offense, going 2-for-3. Both hits were doubles, including cleaning up the bases with a first-pitch smash to the base of the fence in left-center to drive in three teammates who had reached on walks.
"We wanted to get the job done and get out of here, especially with the rain threatening, just get the job done," Buckley said. "We didn't want to come over here flashing and let them sneak up on us."
Strasburg batted around in the fourth and needed only two hits (one being Gorman's granny) to score six runs, aided by three walks and a hit batsman.
Clarke County mounted a rally in the bottom of the fourth, sending eight batters to the plate. The key hit was Jackson's (2-for-3) two-out single, driving in Vernon Matthews, who led off with a double, and Grant Payne-Moon, who was hit by a pitch.
Jesse Smoot popped out to second base with the bases loaded to end the rally and put an exclamation point on the Eagles' troubles.
Clarke County (6-12, 1-8 Bull Run) pitchers were exceedingly generous, issuing 11 walks.
Strasburg made full use of those gifts, demonstrating textbook offensive production, needing only seven hits to generate 15 runs and leaving only three runners on base.
Strasburg's Michael Reynolds bashed a two-out, 3-0 pitch from Owens high over the left-field fence for a two-run homer in third inning.
In addition to Buckley's twin two-baggers, Klay Fogle drove in Buckley with a two-strike double just inside the third-base bag, and Zach Cover went 2-for-3 with two RBIs.
"We're pretty efficient, but I did not realize we only left three on," Jeff Smoot said. "We got better, I think, in the middle innings. Our approach was not as good early in the game as it needed to be.
"There's no denying that we've played pretty well in the last month. We think we can get a little better. We hope we're not as good as we could be. When we get to practice on Monday, we'll find plenty to work on."