By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- With Skyline ace right-hander Chaz Rutherford facing off against rock-solid Warren County righty Tyler Post, Wednesday's cross-county rivalry baseball matchup at Bing Crosby Stadium had all the makings for a brisk game.
Then again, maybe not.
With the temperature hovering in the high-80's for the opening pitch and barely budging from there, no pitcher was safe from the heat-sapping weather. The result was a happy one for the batters -- a combined 20 hits, a slew of walks and 23 total runs went up on the scoreboard in Skyline's eventual 13-10 victory.
Relatively quiet through the first three innings, the Hawks exploded for nine runs in the bottom of the fourth. Skyline (6-4) sent 12 batters to the plate in that pivotal inning, wiping out an early three-run deficit with seven hits in the frame.
Hunter Stewart had two hits in the inning, including a two-run homer over the center-field fence in his second at bat. That followed Tyler Johnson's two-run double and capped the decisive rally.
"We've been practicing a lot of hitting the past couple of weeks, and starting in the fourth inning it really took off for us," Stewart said. "It was the first game really playing in the heat, and I guess we got a little winded. We got our wind back in the fourth inning."
Warren County (4-3) delivered an opening salvo in the top of the first with three runs against Rutherford. Tyler Post led off with a triple, and eventually scored on Cody Tharpe's fielder's choice. The Wildcats had the bases loaded after that, but Rutherford nearly escaped before Nicholas Jenkins roped a two-out single to center to score two more runs.
Post made it through two innings without allowing a run, but after hitting a batter for the second time in the bottom of the third he was done pitching.
"He just felt like he lost the zone," Wildcats coach Vernon Matthews said. "It was really hot out there for him. He's a high-energy guy. His metabolism, he wears himself out waiting for a game."
Skyline failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out opportunity as Wildcats reliever Joey Cataloni escaped the jam by getting Sterling Jennings to line out to third and then striking out Jacob Sims.
There was no escaping the fourth, though, as the Hawks poured on the offense. A pair of Warren County errors in that inning helped Skyline's rally along.
"Pitching-wise we've got to do much better, defensively we've got to do much better," Matthews said. "But hey, they just hit the heck out of the ball."
The Wildcats regrouped in the fifth, plating four runs to pull within 9-7. Post and Austin King each had RBI singles in the outburst as the Wildcats sent 10 batters to the plate.
The Hawks answered with four runs of their own in the bottom of the inning as they batted around. Nick Helmick, Dakota Smith and Joe Dawkins had RBI singles in the inning.
"We're trying to find the right lineup," Skyline coach Ben Taylor said. "The guys who should be hitting started hitting."
Warren County plated another run in the sixth and two more in the seventh. The Wildcats had only six hits, but benefited from 10 walks issued by Skyline's pitching.
"I think the heat affected the pitchers a little bit -- Chaz and Tyler, and even the guys that followed them didn't have their normal pop," Matthews said. "Speaking for our pitchers, we got behind in the count all night and allowed them to sit on pitches."
Rutherford picked up the win, working 4 1/3 innings while striking out nine. He also walked eight.
"Our guys battled," Taylor said. "That's the one thing -- we played for seven innings. We gave up three early runs, but Chaz got better as the game went along and [Joe] Dawkins came in there."
Post had three hits for the Wildcats. Helmick and Smith had three hits each for the Hawks.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>