By Robert Edmonds - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- A late-game rally propelled Skyline to a 9-8 victory after falling behind early when the Hawks hosted Handley in baseball action Friday night.
"We have a scrappy bunch of kids," said Hawks coach Ben Taylor. "This is characteristic of our team. We have gotten behind before and come back, and to be able to pull a victory off like this shows a lot about the character of our team."
The Hawks whittled away at a seven-run deficit before Hunter Stewart delivered the knockout blow to give Skyline the lead for the first time since a 1-0 lead in the first inning.
Trailing 8-1 in the fourth inning, Cody Tharpe hit an RBI single off Handley starter Reagan Potts to begin the comeback.
After back-to-back singles for the Hawks to start the fifth inning, Potts walked the next two batters, scoring a run and forcing Judges coach Eddie Simmons to make a pitching change. Ryan Hayes took over on the mound, but a passed ball by catcher Andrew Lins scored another Hawks runner against the first batter he faced.
Tharpe then delivered again at the plate with a two-run base hit to right field, cutting the Judges' lead to 8-6 before lead base runner Jacob Sims was thrown out trying to reach third base to end the inning.
"We knew on offense that when we came to plate we had to take each at bat and think about getting on base," Tharpe said. "We couldn't think about how much we were down."
Skyline continued to rally in the bottom of the sixth, with Hunter Partlowe knocking a lead-off double to start the inning. Partlowe scored when pinch hitter Anthony Herman singled to left field, putting the tying run for the Hawks on base.
Hoping to escape the inning, Hayes retired the next two batters and it appeared that the Judges would be able to maintain their one-run advantage when Joe Dawkins hit a routine ground ball in the infield. Judges shortstop Jacob Rudolph could not make the play, however, allowing Dawkins to reach base and continue the inning.
Nick Helmick tied the game with an RBI single to left field in the next at bat, setting up Stewart. The junior sent a blast into right field for a ground-rule double, completing the comeback and putting his team in the driver's seat.
"I knew when I came to the plate that I could do it," said Stewart. "This isn't the first time I've been in this situation. I love the pressure. Coach is always preaching that we have to stay energetic at the plate and support our teammates and tonight was definitely a total team effort."
"I think that he [Stewart] is starting to relish being in these types of situation," Taylor said. "He was in the same exact situation earlier in the year and was able to come through. He felt the pressure again tonight and came through with flying colors."
With the lead for the first time since entering the game for starter Joe Bass, Tharpe took the mound in the seventh inning hoping to shut down Handley at the plate one last time.
After the first out of the inning was retired on the basepaths, Tharpe came through with two strikeouts to seal the victory for his team in a dramatic finish.
"The team was a little down when we fell behind and I was a little upset with myself after giving up the runs when I first came into the game," Tharpe said. "I've never seen that much tension in the dugout from our team and it was great for us to be able to come back, and it only helps us going forward because we know if we get in this situation, we know we can do it."
Handley coach Eddie Simmons feels that despite not being able to finish off the game, his team has to have a short memory.
"You don't have many opportunities to knock a pitcher like Joe Bass out of the game," Simmons said. "And when you do, you have to be able to take advantage of it. We weren't able to do that tonight. Skyline came out and wanted to win and in the end they were one run better than us.
"In baseball, you don't have the option to dwell on losses. You have to forget and move on and try to get better. I am positive that's what our kids are going to do and we'll go back to practice and work to get better every day."