By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After just one inning, concern was setting in for Skyline shortstop Taylor Henry.
The first-place Hawks were down two runs to last place and winless Handley during Thursday night's Northwestern District softball game, and Henry knew Skyline needed to get its offense charged up soon to avoid a major upset.
"We came out a little flat tonight," Henry said. "You can't come out flat against any district team. We got down 2-0 and we were all nervous. We were all like, 'Oh, my gosh, we've got to hit the ball.' Not having any losses in the district, you're nervous [of a potential upset] anyway."
The Hawks chipped away, tying the game in the fourth before unloading for five runs in the fifth to capture a 10-2 win over the Judges in Jim Barnett Park.
By scoring the game's final 10 runs, Skyline set a single-season school record with its 12th win and avoided a letdown heading into Tuesday's game at home with Sherando, which has one district loss.
"Right when everybody started hitting the ball and getting on we were like, 'OK girls, we've we got this,'" said Henry, who finished 3-for-4 with four RBIs. "We felt like we had to keep the rally up because the next inning, [Handley] could have scored five runs. So you've got to keep it up and continue hitting the ball."
When the teams first met this season, Skyline freshman Sarah Beamer threw her first career no-hitter in a 3-0 win. Handley wasn't about to go another game without a hit against the Hawks and used "small ball" and some fielding help from Skyline to take a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
Lauren Yaider (2-for-3, run scored) led off for Handley with a bunt up the third-base side for a hit. Megan Strother then hit a grounder to first, which Casey Henry fielded and attempted to go to second to get the force. Henry's throw sailed high into left field, allowing Yaider to score on the error, and Strother also attempted to score but was tagged out easily at home on the relay from the outfield.
But wait a moment. A Skyline infielder was called for interference when Strother was running between second and third, the out was taken off the board and Strother went back to third. One out later, Ali Fritts' groundout to first plated Strother for a 2-0 lead.
The Judges continued to test Skyline's defense with a few more bunt attempts in the early innings.
"That's something we should have been ready for," Skyline coach Richie Armstrong said of Handley's bunt game. "To me, we came out flat and I don't know what the deal was. We can look for excuses all we want, but we weren't ready to play."
Handley pitcher Chelsea Hamric, meanwhile, set the Hawks down in order in the first two innings and got an out to begin the third. Casey Henry (1-for-3, two runs scored) then singled sharply down the first-base side, went to second on an errant pickoff attempt, to third on a steal, and scored on a double-steal that involved Mandy Poe.
An inning later, Sabrie Neeb (2-for-4, three runs scored) doubled over center fielder Destini Wallace's head with one out and came around on Taylor Henry's single up the middle to tie the game at 2-2.
An easy 1-2-3 inning for Beamer in the Handley half of the fourth allowed the Hawks (12-5, 5-0 Northwestern) to get back up again quickly and keep their hot bats going in the fifth.
Skyline batted around in the fifth, putting up five runs on four hits against Hamric.
"[Skyline's] a good team -- two runs [scored] wasn't going to do it [for us]," Handley coach Tim Mondell said. "We can't depend upon Chelsea to shut people out game-in and game-out, especially against a team of their caliber."
The Handley senior walked only three in going the distance, but Hamric's free passes to Casey Henry and Tommi Michael -- Skyline's No. 8 and 9 batters, respectively -- began the fifth. Poe then singled through the left side to drive in Henry with the go-ahead run and Michael came in on a passed ball.
Poe ended up on third on that same passed ball and scored on a one-out single down the third-base side by Beamer. After Neeb reached on a fielder's choice, Taylor Henry had an RBI triple to center and Julie Shifflett's bloop single into shallow left made it 7-2 Skyline.
"It was just one of those rough innings," Hamric said. "I don't know? I just think we all kind of had our heads down, and once they started making contact with the ball, it was just hard to get out of that [mindset]. I just had to keep fighting, and it was difficult."
With his team coming off an impressive non-district win over Fauquier on Tuesday, Armstrong was pleased that the Hawks could continue to swing the bats well. Skyline had eight players hit safely and finished with 11 hits against Handley (0-16, 0-6).
"We swung the bats well against Fauquier and I was anxious to see how we would do tonight," Armstrong said. "We didn't swing the bats well early, but we did kind of settle in [during the middle innings] and that was good to see with Sherando coming up."
The pitching of Beamer continued to be a strength for the Hawks. In going six innings for the win, Beamer allowed just three hits, no earned runs, no walks and struck out five.
After Strother reached on an error in the first, Beamer retired 17 of the next 18 batters she faced until Hamric hit a cue-ball she beat out for a two-out infield hit in the sixth. However, Beamer came right back and struck out Fritts to conclude her stint.
"We always rely on Sarah," Taylor Henry said. "If we make mistakes in the field, we count on Sarah. She's so consistent. Last time she had a no-hitter against [Handley], so we rely on Sarah. She's our main pitcher and she's our main girl."
Casey Henry pitched a scoreless seventh, striking out two and allowing one hit.
The Hawks scored their final three runs in the seventh. Henry got her last two RBIs with a single up the middle and Chelsea Albanese tripled into the right-field corner to drive in Shifflett all the way from first.
When Skyline played at Sherando last month, the Hawks squeezed out a 1-0 win. Taylor Henry is looking forward to the rematch.
"We're really excited," she said. "We can't let them beat us on our home [field]."