By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Tori Jo Brown would have been perfectly happy with a double on Tuesday.
Skyline's sophomore third baseman figured that's what she had with the bases loaded in the sixth inning against Northwestern District rival Sherando when she lofted a deep fly ball into the night sky toward left-center field.
"I didn't know it was out," Brown said. "I thought it hit the fence. And when I turned to go to second and they were all like, 'No, just keep going,' and I was like, 'Oh, OK.'"
Brown's sixth-inning grand slam broke open a tight game and boosted the Hawks to a 12-6 victory.
Heading into the bottom of the sixth, Skyline (4-2, 2-0 Northwestern) held just a 5-4 lead against the Warriors. The Hawks loaded the bases by sandwiching a pair of walks around Hannah Ritter's single off Sherando starting pitcher Heidi Brown, and broke through for a run on Makaela Dawkins' RBI single.
That brought Tori Jo Brown up to the plate, and she sent a first-pitch offering from Heidi over the fence.
The Hawks ended up sending 11 batters to the plate in the sixth and scoring two more runs. Corinna Colton slashed an RBI double to right off reliever Nikki Marshall and Carrie Robinson added a sac fly RBI to complete the seven-run rally.
"We haven't been hitting a lot during games," Brown said. "We've been making contact, but we all started to focus more. We knew this game was really important for our district."
The Hawks gave starting pitcher Carrie Robinson a lead right from the start, as Samantha Santmyers' fielder's choice plated the game's first run in the bottom of the first inning.
Sherando (3-4, 1-2 Northwestern) answered in the top of the second when Katie Manson crushed a Robinson pitch for a home run over the left-field fence, but the Hawks responded with two more runs in the bottom of the inning as Ritter brought home one on a fielder's choice and Dawkins drove in the other with a double.
Heidi Brown helped herself with a sac fly RBI in the top of the third and another run scored on a passed ball before the Hawks could complete a double play on Allison Bauer's liner to second.
Skyline broke the tie with two more runs in the bottom of the fourth, a rally started by one of Sherando's three errors in the game.
"I thought Heidi pitched extremely well," Warriors coach Clarence Smith said. "All four of our pitchers are really position players who are learning to pitch in big situations. So I thought Heidi pitched us into contention. We were there, we were within one run heading into the bottom of the sixth inning. Then the wheels came off a little bit, but I expect more from our defense. Our defense has to back our pitching, and it wasn't there tonight."
The Warriors got back within a run in the top of the sixth when Jessy Shipman ripped a leadoff triple to right and later scored on an error.
The bottom of the sixth proved the back-breaker for Sherando, which did plate two more runs in the seventh before Robinson closed out the victory for Skyline. Robinson went all seven innings for the Hawks, fanning 12 in the win.
"She got herself out of messes that she and we put her into," Hawks coach Frank Nelson said. "She started off slow, had a mid-range innings where she did well and then towards the end really picked it up when she needed to do that."
Carly Nixon had three hits to pace the Warriors.
"We have very good hitters, 1 through 11, and we're confident that we're going to be able to score runs," Smith said. "We're confident in what they're able to do offensively. We're able to scratch out runs and we expect that we're going to score runs. It just comes down to our pitching.
"... We're trying to stretch out our pitchers right now, and the last thing we can afford to do is give extra outs. We're not built to withstand that."
Dawkins led the Hawks with three hits.
"We don't have a bad nucleus," Nelson said. "We're just still learning to play together."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>