By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Warren County High School's baseball team seemed to do everything in its power to give away Wednesday night's matchup against cross-town rival Skyline.
The Hawks wouldn't let them.
After rallying for a pair of runs in the top of a wild seventh inning, Skyline (3-6) promptly returned the favor with an equally strange bottom of the seventh as the Wildcats took a 5-4 victory at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The Wildcats' Cody Hindman led off with a single, then moved to second on Jontae Rollins' bunt single. Rollins would have settled for the sacrifice bunt, but after Skyline pitcher Sterling Jennings scooped up the ball he found no one covering first base to take the throw.
Then Jennings hit Damien Wright with a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
That brought Ryan Tierney to the plate, and he laced a 1-0 pitch into right field. Hawks right fielder Joe Bass charged and snared the sinking liner, then came up throwing to home plate. His throw skipped past catcher Hunter Partlowe and no one was there to back him up as Hindman tagged up and came home with the winning run.
"It kind of goes to fundamentals," Skyline coach Ben Taylor said. "Joe made a nice catch, but we're not backing up home plate like you're supposed to on a throw from the outfield."
The loss nullified a nice comeback by the Hawks, who did get some help from Warren County (6-4) in the seventh.
Partlowe led off with a bunt single against Wildcats starting pitcher Tyler Moody, who then walked pinch hitter Anthony Herman.
The worst was to come, though initially it looked like a dazzling finish for Warren County when Barry Smallwood slashed a liner back to Moody, who turned and fired to second base to start a double play. It could well have been a triple play, as Partlowe froze just past second base as he apparently thought Moody had caught Smallwood's liner.
Instead, the Wildcats threw the ball into the outfield trying to triple up Partlowe and allowed him to score as Skyline cut the lead to 4-3.
"It kind of messed us up, too, because that guy should have been over at third and then we had two guys at second," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. "It was a nice double play and could've been a triple play. It was just a bad throw."
Chaz Rutherford then drew a walk and Bass singled to keep the rally going. Moody, trying to pick Rutherford off second, instead threw the ball into the infield to move both runners up and Nick Helmick made him pay for that with an RBI single to tie the game.
"Both teams seemed like they tried to give it away at the end there," Moody said. "I guess we came out fired up in the bottom of the seventh, and we did enough to get the win."
Skyline got to Moody early, delivering three first-inning singles en route to a 1-0 lead.
The Wildcats did even better in the bottom of the first, plating four runs off starting pitcher Rutherford.
That would do it for scoring until the sixth, when the Hawks got one run back on Hunter Stewart's RBI triple.
"We've done this in past games. We come out and have a really good first inning, and then we let the other pitcher get settled in," Mathews said. "I thought we did that again tonight."
Rutherford worked five innings for no decision, while Moody went all seven to earn the win for the Wildcats. Moody struck out nine.
"That's the only thing that matters, one in the win column over there," Moody said. "It would've been a tough loss and I can only imagine how they feel after that one because they battled well, they didn't get down."
Tyler Post and Eric Baker had two hits apiece to lead Warren County.
Helmick had three hits for the Hawks.
"I'm happy to win this game, but I thought our execution was sloppy -- offensively, defensively, pitching, base running -- we made mistakes everywhere," Mathews said. "Having said that, I think you have to give Skyline a whole bunch of credit for battling back like they did."
Ultimately, it wasn't enough.
"In the end, it kind of came down to making a play," Taylor said. "They did, and we didn't."