By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Longtime Strasburg baseball coach Jeff Smoot felt that his offense needed a bit of a jolt after a few games of poor production at the plate, so Smoot did a little lineup shuffling prior to Thursday's Bull Run District game with Clarke County.
The move appeared to be just what the Rams needed, as Strasburg's bats erupted in a big way in a 16-6 win over the visiting Eagles in a game shortened to six innings due to the mercy rule.
"We thought maybe that we could change things up a little bit and jump start us a little bit," Smoot said. "We felt like we needed a little more offense than what we've been getting."
The Rams recorded 13 hits in the rout, and were also helped out by six Clarke County errors and a combined 10 walks and hit-by-pitches by the Eagles' pitching staff.
Strasburg senior Tyler Hott, who started on the mound for the Rams, also led the way on offense, as Hott went 3-for-5 with a grand slam, two doubles and five RBIs.
Hott's grand slam -- a no-doubter that cleared the batting cage behind the left-field fence -- came at a critical point in the contest, as Strasburg watched a 2-0 lead quickly evaporate in the top of the second before Hott's blast off Eagles starter Ike Dofflemyer gave the Rams a 6-3 lead in the bottom of the inning.
"He threw me a first-pitch curveball that was a ball, so I knew he wasn't going back up with another curveball. I was looking fastball and he just happened to get it up and I was able to hit it," Hott said. "It felt really good. We needed to answer, and that was a really good answer for us."
The home run served as a bit of redemption for Hott, who surrendered back-to-back home runs to David Betz and Dofflemyer in the top of the second that gave Clarke County a 3-2 lead.
Hott's six-inning outing on the mound was full of some ups and downs, as Hott retired 11 straight batters before falling into more trouble in the top of the sixth. In the sixth, Hott dealt a lead-off walk to Kevin Ryan before serving up another home run -- this one to Evan Snapp -- that pulled the Eagles to within four runs. Clarke County (5-8, 2-5) added another run in the inning on an error to cut the Rams' lead to 9-6 heading into the bottom of the sixth.
"I missed a few locations here and there, then I made a few quality pitches there in between those two innings," Hott said. "My defense really helped me out tonight, and they played really well behind me. I couldn't ask for anything more."
Hott (3-1) allowed six runs (five earned) on five hits in his six innings. He also struck out nine Eagles batters. Smoot said what made Hott's day most impressive was the fact that the senior was battling a severe migraine throughout the entire contest.
"I'm not sure how he was able to have the kind of night that he did, out there [on the mound] and at the plate, given how bad he felt," Smoot said.
Strasburg's bats exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to end the game via the mercy rule.
The Rams put runners on second and third with none out following Mark Smoot's double down the left-field line to open the inning, and leadoff man Ryan Smoot (1-for-2, two RBIs, three runs scored) ripped a two-run double to left-center to give the Rams an 11-6 lead.
Ryan Smoot then scored on a fielder's choice, Hott added an RBI double, and an Eagles error on a Todd Dean grounder gave Strasburg a 14-6 lead. With the bases loaded, junior Ian Butler ripped the first pitch he saw from Clarke County reliever Cody Santmyer off the fence in deep left center that scored two and ended the ball game.
"I was struggling early in the game, but I ended up overcoming it and hitting the ball," Butler said. "I was thinking fastball and just got it right down the middle and crushed it."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org