By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- If Chaz Rutherford feels a little snake-bitten these days, you can't blame him.
For at least the second time this season Rutherford pitched a stellar game, only to have his defense let him down. The Hawks committed four costly errors in a 5-1 Northwestern District baseball loss to Millbrook on Thursday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"The same thing kind of happened against Sherando this year, too, when Chaz was pitching well," Skyline coach Ben Taylor said. "We made a mess of it in the infield tonight, but we'll work on that. The kids around him just have to make plays."
Rutherford had a no-hitter going through four innings, but the Hawks were still down 3-0.
The Pioneers scored one in the top of the first. Rutherford walked Millbrook's Trenton Burgreen and Ryan Hartigan, but with two outs he induced a ground ball by Zach Hughes. However, a throwing error allowed Burgreen to score and give Millbrook a 1-0 lead.
The Pioneers (8-8, 5-3 Northwestern) added two more in the fourth inning without a hit. Hartigan reached on a two-base error, and Hughes then drew a walk from Rutherford. One out later, Daniel Nawrocki reached on an error to score Hartigan for a 2-0 lead. Matt Amos followed with an RBI groundout.
Despite the miscues, Rutherford stayed calm and collected out on the mound.
"Everybody makes mistakes. The infield is a little dry, so it was a little rough out there," Rutherford said. "I make mistakes when other guys are on the mound, so you can't get upset about it."
Rutherford pitched five innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. The senior said he felt really strong on the mound.
"I was hitting my spots well," Rutherford said. "My fastball was working really well."
Another problem for the Hawks was the pitching performance by Nawrocki. The Millbrook senior pitched a complete game, and allowed only four hits while striking out 10.
"[Nawrocki] had an excellent performance," Millbrook coach Brian Burke said. "His fastball was working, his breaking ball and his change-up. He got all three pitches over for strikes. I was very pleased with his performance."
The Hawks (8-7, 2-5 Northwestern) scored their only run of the game in the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Johnson led off with a single, and Sterling Jennings drew a walk. A throwing error on a ground ball by Hunter Stewart scored Johnson.
Joe Dawkins came on in relief of Rutherford and pitched two solid innings for the Hawks.
Bruce Keenan and Hartigan each had two hits for Millbrook.
The Pioneers are in second place in the Northwestern District and have won six of their last seven games.
"I'm pleasantly surprised with as young as we are," Burke said. "I think it's really just an attribute to the coaching staff and how they've prepared the players this season. And to the work ethic of the players to keep working hard and get better."
Nick Helmick led Skyline's offense with a double.
The game was an important one in the district standings, where the bottom four teams are battling for position heading into the district tournament. The Hawks have a young squad, and the loss to Millbrook could be a good learning experience for the team.
"I think next time we play them, we should do a lot better," Rutherford said. "I don't think the guys will be as nervous, and if I pitch the way I did tonight again then I think we'll do fine."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org