By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Jeff Smoot thinks hitting might be a catching phenomenon in baseball.
If so, the longtime Strasburg High School coach witnessed a full-blown epidemic spread among the Rams in Friday night's 12-3 victory over Bull Run District rival Clarke County at First Bank Park.
Strasburg clubbed six extra-base hits in all and consistently made hard contact as the Rams broke the game open early against the Eagles.
"I do think it is a little bit contagious and we were able to start out with some balls that we squared up in there," Smoot said. "I think we did catch fire a little bit. I do think that does happen in baseball."
It happened Friday, for certain. Strasburg (7-1, 5-1) plated four runs in the first inning and seven more in the third to nearly mercy-rule the Eagles in five innings before Clarke County (5-4, 4-3) staved that off with a pair of runs in the top of the fifth.
The Rams jumped on Eagles starting pitcher Kevin Ryan from the start. Noah St. Clair drew a leadoff walk to open the bottom of the first, then Ryan Murphy followed with a thunderous double to left field. Ian Baker followed with another double on a ball that shot through the gap between right and center to drive in the game's first run.
Not to be outdone, Evan Snapp delivered the Rams' third straight double by ripping a ball down the third-base line to drive in two more runs. Two batters later, Tyler Doman slashed an RBI single to center to complete the rally.
Pitching in a steady mist that at times became a downpour, neither Ryan nor opposing starter Mark Smoot had their best stuff. In Ryan's case, location seemed to be the main culprit for allowing all those line drives.
"He was missing a little bit up and a little side to side," Clarke County coach Jon Novick said. "Give credit to Strasburg, though -- that's a good lineup."
The Eagles got a run back in the top of the third on Jarrett Sowder's RBI single, but the Rams teed off at the plate in the bottom of the inning.
Snapp, a Clarke County transfer who finished with three RBIs against his former team, led off with a single and Ryan Smoot followed with a blast that easily cleared the left-field fence. The two-run home run was Ryan Smoot's first as a high schooler, but he had no interest in tracking down that ball as a souvenir afterwards.
"We don't keep them here," Ryan Smoot said. "Hopefully I'll hit a few more. That ball probably went back into play at some point."
Mark Smoot followed his twin brother with a single and Tyler Doman had yet another double, and Joshua Pritchett got into the act with another double to drive both runners in and increase his team's lead to 8-1 and end Ryan's night. Snapp added an RBI on a sacrifice fly off reliever Will Roper to tag on one more run in the inning as the Rams sent 11 batters to the plate.
"That's about as locked in at the plate that I think our kids have been all year," Jeff Smoot said. "Let's not kid ourselves -- I mean, we were pretty good right there in those first few innings."
Mark Smoot fired one more scoreless inning before finishing his night. The left-hander struck out five while allowing two hits to earn the win.
"I don't think that he pitched as well as we've seen him pitch, but well enough," Jeff Smoot said. "And obviously he had a little run support. He struggled a little bit with the breaking ball tonight and threw too many pitches. He didn't command the zone like we'd like him to, but he did go out there with I would say less than his best stuff and competed and kept them to a run."
The Eagles rallied for a pair of runs off Ryan Smoot in the fifth after he loaded the bases with no outs by hitting the first two batters he faced and then allowing Jordon Turner's single. Travis Elsea drove in one run on a fielder's choice and Sowder got the other RBI on a sac fly.
Ryan Smoot made good on one of those runs in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI single, and freshman Ryan Bowers made it through a relatively uneventful final two innings on the mound to finish up for the Rams.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>