By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- No one on Strasburg's baseball team can fully explain the reason for it, but the Rams' bats have been tough to silence over the last several games.
Rams senior outfielder Ian Butler said he's simply been seeing the ball well. Freshman third baseman Josh Pritchett said the Rams are just waiting for their pitch. Longtime head coach Jeff Smoot can't exactly put his finger on it.
Whatever the cause, Strasburg has been producing runs in bunches at the plate, and the Rams' bats continued to stay hot in a 20-2 blowout of county rival Stonewall Jackson on a chilly Wednesday evening. The game, which featured a 12-run third inning for the Rams, ended in the fifth inning due to the mercy rule.
"We've tried to stay diligent in what we're doing and our approach, and things that we're coaching and emphasizing. And maybe [it's] just perseverance," Smoot said of the Rams' offense, which has scored 12 or more runs in three straight games. "We've kind of persevered through the early part of the schedule where we weren't very productive offensively. I don't think our guys wavered, and maybe we're just finally seeing the fruits of our labor."
Strasburg (8-1) needed just 12 hits in the victory -- Stonewall Jackson's pitchers combined to deal seven walks and hit three batters -- but five of the Rams' hits went for extra bases, including two home runs.
Junior outfielder Noah St. Clair (2-for-3, RBI, two runs) got the Rams rolling in the bottom of the first inning, as he ripped a double to the fence in right-center off Generals starter Matt Murphy and came around to score on a two-base error on a bunt attempt by Strasburg's Ryan Murphy.
Ryan Murphy then scored on another Stonewall Jackson error to give the Rams a 2-0 lead.
Stonewall Jackson (3-5) answered with a pair of runs in the top of the second inning off Rams starter Mark Smoot. Matt Murphy reached on an error to lead off the frame and later scored on a one-out RBI single by freshman Brett Jones. Junior Kory Somers delivered another run-scoring single with two outs to tie the game at 2-2.
"For a bright part, I thought we came out and we hit the ball pretty well tonight. [Mark] Smoot's a good pitcher and we came out and we strung together some hits and scored some runs early," Generals coach Mike Lenox said. "But it was just one of those games."
Matt Murphy worked into trouble in the bottom of the second inning as he walked Mark Smoot and Tyler Doman to lead off the frame, and a sacrifice bunt by Pritchett moved both runners into scoring position. Butler, batting in the ninth spot, then delivered a three-run home run -- his first of the season -- to left-center to give the Rams a 5-2 lead.
"It was 2-2, I had two strikes on me and I wasn't expecting anything like that. I just got a high fastball and just got a hold of it," said Butler, who went 2-for-2 with a career-high six RBIs. "Today I was just seeing the ball real well."
The Rams' offense erupted for 12 runs in third inning, as Strasburg sent 17 batters to the plate.
A single by Ian Baker (2-for-3, double, two RBIs) and two walks loaded the bases for Strasburg with one out, and Doman (two RBIs) and Pritchett each plated a run with RBI singles. Two walks and a hit-by-pitch scored three more runs for the Rams, and Baker yanked a two-run double down the left-field line to give Strasburg a 12-2 lead.
Strasburg added two more runs on a walk and a hit-by-pitch, and Pritchett delivered his second RBI single of the inning on a grounder to left field.
"I just waited for my pitch, pretty much. ... If it's my pitch, I hit it," said Pritchett, who was 2-for-2 with two RBIs.
Butler capped the Rams' third-inning outburst with a two-run single to center field that gave Strasburg a 17-2 lead.
Strasburg added three more runs in the fourth inning, as freshman Ryan Bowers came on to pinch-hit and promptly drove a two-run home run to left field, and Ryan Smoot -- who reached with a hustle double -- scored following a wild pitch and a throwing error.
"I do think there is a factor where it's just contagious. I don't care what you say. Kids kind of feed off each other a little bit, and I think we're kind of getting some of that too," Jeff Smoot said.
The Rams continued to get solid defense on Wednesday, which including a spectacular diving grab by St. Clair in the top of the fifth inning, and strong starting pitching. Mark Smoot, who went all five innings, allowed six hits and a walk. He struck out one and didn't allow an earned run.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD