By Brian Eller - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline's Sarah Beamer stood on the mound, just one strike away from getting out of the top of the seventh inning.
She had been nearly flawless so far, allowing just two hits and collecting nine strikeouts with just one batter to go. Alexandra Meeker, meanwhile, was at second, representing the go-ahead run for Sherando. She stepped off the bag with each pitch, making sure Beamer noticed her dangling into the Hawks hurler's field of vision.
Suddenly, Beamer spun around, hoping to nab Meeker, who was a few steps off the base. But her throw was high and the ball sailed into the outfield, sending Meeker sprinting toward third base. The nightmare for the Hawks, however, wasn't finished. As Skyline center fielder Kaitlin Robinson bent down to scoop up the loose ball, it rolled underneath her glove. Meeker never stopped running and dashed all the way home to put Sherando (14-5, 7-1) on the scoreboard. That run proved to be the difference maker as the Warriors squeaked past the Hawks, 1-0.
"It was very surprising," Meeker said. "I didn't think [Beamer] was going to throw it and then as soon as I heard my coach yell that there was a passed ball, it was just getting on my horse and going."
The play gave Skyline (13-6, 6-1) two errors and overshadowed an otherwise dominant pitching matchup between Beamer and Sherando starter Amanda Lutz. Both pitchers were impressive on the mound, and early on it looked as if whoever could string together a couple of timely hits would walk away with the win.
Both pitchers started out solid, allowing just five base runners through the first four innings. Beamer had a perfect game after three innings, but Lutz broke that up with a single in the top of the fourth. Lutz, meanwhile, gave up her first hit in the second inning to Skyline catcher Julie Shifflett, but allowed just one runner to get past first base after four frames.
"I was just ready this time," Lutz said. "After the hard loss last time I was just ready to come back out and I know the team was pumped, too. We were ready."
Their earlier matchup also ended 1-0, with Skyline escaping with the win. Fittingly, Wednesday's game would be decided by the same margin.
In the top of the fifth inning, Sherando had a chance to score when Samantha Musser reached base after being hit by a pitch, then stole second and third base to put the go-ahead run just 60 feet away with two outs. But after a walk to Jessica Seymour, Beamer got out of the jam, getting Erica Doyle to ground out.
"We've been a good hitting squad this year and we've put up a lot of runs so far," Sherando coach Garry Sawyer said. "For some reason we've not amassed many runs against [Beamer]. She does a great job out there. They have a great pitcher, we have a great pitcher and it really came down to who was going to crack first."
Through six innings, however, neither pitcher had shown any signs of cracking and it looked as if the contest would head to extra innings.
After Paige Mills grounded out to the shortstop to start the seventh, Meeker stepped into the box and sent a Beamer delivery well into right field. By the time the ball reached the infield, Meeker had held up at second with just one out. Lacie Taylor couldn't move Meeker over, though, popping out to the pitcher, leaving Musser with the chance to drive in the potential winning run. Musser never even got the chance to be the hero, however. Instead, Beamer sent her pickoff attempt into the outfield and could only watch as Sherando crossed the plate.
"In that situation, in that kind of a ball game, that's not the play you make," Skyline coach Richard Armstrong said. "We've got the kid two strikes at the plate and all we have to do is throw one more strike and we're out of the inning. You just don't make that play. Then again, she's a freshman and freshmen have tendencies to do really good things and then not so really good things."
The Hawks tried to rally in the bottom of the seventh, as Sabrie Neeb reached base with a single. Lutz shut them down, however, moving the Warriors into first place in the Northwestern District.
Sherando now sits a half-game ahead of Skyline for first place in the district, but if Skyline defeats Millbrook today, the two teams will face off in a tie-breaker at James Wood on Friday.
"This is a great team," Sawyer said. "We're excited with the win and hopefully it could come down to a playoff game if they win [tonight]."