By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Robby Belanger knew he had to come through for his team. With the game on the line, the Skyline senior delivered.
Belanger's walk-off single gave the Hawks a 7-6 win over John Champe and ended a six-game losing streak.
"I went up there with the mindset that I really needed to score a run here and I just had to be clutch," Belanger said of his game-winning hit. "I saw an outside fastball coming in and I just sent it the other way."
With the game tied at 6-6 in the bottom of the seventh, Skyline's Hunter Partlowe led off with a double off John Champe reliever Nick Able.
Tyler Johnson singled and the Knights intentionally walked Joe Pingley to load the bases with no outs. Able then struck out Jacob Sims, which brought Belanger to the plate.
Belanger laced a pitch into left field to end the Hawks' losing streak.
"We've been in a slump a little bit, and to just get this 'W' under our belt feels pretty good -- with a cool walk-off like that," Belanger said.
The Hawks (4-6, 1-4 Northwestern) took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Pingley reached on an infield single, and Sims followed with a single. An error loaded the bases with no outs. One out later, Michael Burrola was hit by a pitch from John Champe starter Scott Schaffler. The Knights were unable to turn a double play on a grounder hit by Robert Presley to take a 2-0 lead.
The Knights took the lead in the top of the fourth. Luca Tesselli was hit by a pitch from Skyline starter Burrola. Able followed with a single, and an RBI double by Schaffler cut the lead to 2-1. Two Skyline errors scored two more runs to give the Knights a 3-2 edge.
The Hawks responded in the bottom of the fourth. Pingley doubled to start the inning and a couple John Champe errors helped tie the game at 3-3.
The Knights took the lead in the top of the sixth. With one out, Burrola walked Yareb Martinez and Ryan Cramer, and a sacrifice bunt moved them to second and third. A passed ball scored Martinez for a 4-3 lead. Nate Rogers drew another walk, and Skyline brought in Tyler Ritenour to relieve Burrola.
The Knights scored two runs on stolen bases and a throwing error to take a 6-3 lead.
"Michael and Tyler they both battled out there for us," Skyline coach Jay Barnes said. "Tyler through some adversity there, which I don't think was his fault. But he kept working."
The Hawks responded in the bottom of the sixth. Pingley and Sims started things off with back-to-back singles. A sacrifice bunt by Belanger moved them to second and third. Pinch hitter Brandon Walters delivered a two-run double to cut the lead to 6-5.
"I was thinking no pressure," Walters said of his double. "I was thinking do my thing like always, and see the pitch and just drive the baseball."
Walters then stole third and came home on a throwing error.
The Hawks had 10 hits, including three by Pingley.
"Everybody was hitting the ball there the last couple innings, which is great for us," Barnes said. "We've been putting the ball in play. Now we're starting to put the ball in play hard. That's a good thing. That's what we're looking for."
Barnes said the win is exactly what his team needs to turn things around.
"We did struggle a little bit last week, and we're just trying to turn that ship and right it in the right direction," Barnes said. "This is a great step forward for us."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd