By Brad Fauber - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Skyline and host James Wood were locked in a pitchers' duel for much of Thursday's Northwestern District matchup as neither team could string together anything offensively.
But Skyline finally found success at the plate in the top of the seventh inning as it took its first lead of the game, and the Hawks held off a rally by James Wood in the bottom of the frame to escape with a 4-3 victory.
"Our goal was to get [win] number two in the district tonight, we had to go all seven [innings] and to the last out to get it, but we did," Hawks coach Ben Taylor said. "I'm really excited for our kids. A lot of kids stepped up tonight."
Skyline (3-4, 2-1 Northwestern) trailed 2-1 entering the final inning after the Colonels (4-4, 1-2) tacked on a run in the bottom of the sixth, but the Hawks used a combination of timely hitting and some shaky mound-work by James Wood in the frame to take the lead they would not relinquish.
Hawks No. 9 hitter Sterling Jennings led off the inning by working a walk from Colonels freshman starter Colin Benner (six-plus innings, two earned runs, three strikeouts, four hits, five walks) prompting James Wood coach Jared Mounts to bring in sophomore Justin McDonald in relief.
"That's one of the worst things you can do," Mounts said of the leadoff walk. "That gives them a lot of opportunities."
Hawks leadoff man Barry Smallwood followed with a bunt single to put runners on first and second with none out, and both runners advanced on a balk by McDonald. Justin Darr, pinch running for Jennings, then scored on a wild pitch to Hunter Partlowe to tie the game at 2-all.
Smallwood was thrown out at the plate when he attempted to score on a Joe Bass bunt for the second out, and Mounts opted for back-to-back intentional walks to load the bases before bringing in sophomore Dakota Orndorff to face No. 6 hitter Hunter Stewart.
Stewart (1-for-2, two RBIs) wasted no time against Orndorff, fouling off the first offering before sending the next pitch into center field to score two and give Skyline a 4-2 lead.
"It was two outs, tied up -- really had nothing much to lose, just hit the ball hard," Stewart said. "Just be aggressive -- that's what coach [Taylor] has been telling me, so I just had to jump on it."
James Wood attempted a rally of its own as Jordan Iden worked a one-out walk in the bottom of the inning and moved to second on a wild pitch to Neal Cybulski.
Cybulski then ripped a ball to shortstop that was misplayed by Stewart, who hadn't played the position "in a very long time" but was forced to after a substitution error forced Jennings out of the game. Iden scored on the play to pull the Colonels within a run.
But Hawks starter Chaz Rutherford (3-0) regained control on the mound, striking out Kyle Hevner and getting Orndorff to groundout to Stewart to end the game.
Thursday's win was the third consecutive complete game victory for Rutherford this season. He allowed three runs, one earned, on four hits and struck out 10.
"I was just happy that coach [Taylor] let me finish it off," Rutherford said. "I got that first strikeout and then when [Iden] got on I got a little worried. Then our defense got a little shaky but we came through in the end."
For James Wood, the frustration continues as the Colonels continue to come up short in close games, seemingly unable to come up with the key plays when they need them.
The Colonels struggled with men on base while gathering just four hits off Rutherford, and stranded men in scoring position in each of the last three innings, and couldn't close the game when it held the late lead.
"Give [Skyline] credit for executing and finding ways to push runs across," Mounts said. "We were holding the lead there in the top of the seventh, so we felt good about that, but we couldn't close the door.
"Good teams find a way to win that game by one."