By Robert Edmonds - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL-- With opportunities abound, it was only a matter of time until one of the teams in Tuesday night's matchup found itself ahead when Skyline hosted Millbrook in Northwestern District baseball action.
Ten runners were left on base during the first three innings of play before the Pioneers took a pair of runs and then capitalized at a golden moment to take the lead and never look back in a 5-0 victory over the Hawks.
"It was a coach's nightmare leaving that many runners on base early in the game," Pioneers coach Brian Burke said. "Our inability to get key hits prolonged things, but Nick Strosnyder pitched an outstanding game and kept us in it."
Making his first career start at the varsity level, Justin Darr had battled out of two bases-loaded jams earlier in the evening but found himself in familiar territory in the fourth inning. Darr recorded two outs after a leadoff walk to start the inning, but then walked the next two batters he faced to load the bases once again.
"Justin [Darr] really battled out there and gave us all he had on the mound," Hawks coach Ben Taylor said. "He threw over 90 pitches and it was good to see him go out there and go after an opportunity to start the way he did."
The high pitch count led Taylor to replace Darr with Cody Tharpe after the bases were jammed. Tharpe did not fare much better, however, walking the first two batters he faced to give Millbrook a 2-0 lead.
Pioneers freshman Ryan Hartigan then came through with a clutch two-run double to extend the lead to 4-0 before Tharpe ended the inning by striking out Lane Spinks.
"Ryan [Hartigan] came through with a key hit for us there in the fourth," Burke said. "He is only a freshman, but this is not the first time he has come through for us. He stepped up and delivered when we needed it."
Millbrook added another run in the fifth before Skyline found its best opportunity to get back into the game during the sixth inning. The Hawks had stranded four runners on base, including two rallies killed by double plays converted by the Pioneers in both the second and third innings.
Hunter Partlowe reached base to start the inning when he was hit by a pitch from Strosnyder. Chaz Rutherford followed with a single to right field. Nick Helmick flew out to center, and then a smart play by Spinks at third base quickly earned another out in the inning. Spinks fielded a soft ground ball by Joe Bass in the infield, then quickly stepped on the third-base bag to get the lead runner out, but his throw to first was too late to catch Bass before he reached base. Strosnyder managed to get the next batter to fly out in the infield to end the inning and leave another pair of Hawks runners on base.
"I like to pitch with the lead," Strosnyder said. "It gives you a little more comfort on the mound, but I wasn't too concerned early on when the offense didn't score. I knew they would come through eventually."
The senior pitcher completed his outing in the seventh, making quick work of Skyline to record the win in a five-strikeout performance to end the regular season for both teams as they now turn to prepare for tournament play.
"You want to be playing your best baseball at this time of year," Taylor said. "We have had some trouble scoring runs, but we are looking to go into the tournament and try to finish strong and give us some momentum heading into next season. It's win or go home, and that is a mentality I prefer to play with. It keeps you on the edge and should keep us sharp."