Key victory

Wildcats break through against Skyline

By Jeff Nations

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County baseball coach Vernon Mathews got eight sparkling innings from Wildcats starting pitcher John Reith on Friday against cross-town rival Skyline.

If it had come down to it, Mathews was prepared to ask for more from the right-hander. That wasn’t necessary, as the Wildcats pushed across the game-winning run on Michael Caldwell’s sacrifice fly RBI in the bottom of the eighth to pick up a 2-1 extra-inning victory at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Reith dominated a Hawks lineup coming off a 24-run, 20-hit performance against Handley just a night before. Against Reith, Skyline managed just three hits and an unearned run. Reith needed just 101 pitches to get through eight frames.

“It was a great performance — held them to one run, and that run was unearned,” Mathews said of Reith, a junior right-hander. “There a little bit in the middle, he was falling behind hitters. After that, he got ahead and I thought he had good pop the whole game.”

Reith settled in after the third, holding Skyline (3-1) hitless the rest of the way. The early going proved a bit tougher. In the top of the third, Reith issued a one-out walk to Marcus Burke and then allowed a single to Dakota Smith. Hunter Partlowe’s sharp grounder to the right side of the infield was misplayed for a two-base error to plate the game’s first run. Tyler Johnson followed with a single to load the bases, but Reith escaped by striking out Sterling Jennings and inducing a fly ball from Jacob Sims.

That escape act gave Reith a boost, and Warren County getting that run back an inning later was an even bigger motivation. In the bottom of the fourth, Ethan Greiner singled to drive in Austin King, who’d led off with a double. The run was Warren County’s first this season after the Wildcats opened by getting shut out three times straight.

“I was jacked,” Reith said. “The first couple innings were kind of rough, but after the third inning when I got out of the bases-loaded jam I really started to get more focused and get across first-pitch strikes. It was a breeze through the rest of the game.”

Jennings, who started and went five innings for Skyline, didn’t give up much more than Reith. And Hawks lefty reliever Ryan Abel also sailed through two innings before finding trouble in the bottom of the eighth.

Warren County (1-3) got the rally started when Jontae Rollins drew a leadoff walk, then moved up a base on King’s single to center. Reith followed with an infield popup for the first out, but Rollins stole third with Caldwell at the plate and pinch runner Rhett Tierney alertly did the same at second to put two runners in scoring position.

“Jontae actually read that,” Mathews said. “I didn’t give him the steal sign. He got a great jump and knew he could make it, so he did that on his own.”

Rollins wouldn’t have taken the chance if he hadn’t been convinced that steal was there for the taking.

“The whole time the shortstop and second baseman weren’t checking me, so I knew I could get a big lead and just get there,” Rollins said. “When it’s that even, you’ve got to take chances.”

Caldwell closed out the win by thumping a letter high fastball to center for the sac fly to bring home the speedy Rollins.

“Right in my wheelhouse, and I just let it rip,” Caldwell said. “That’s my favorite pitch.”

The Wildcats did a much better job of doing that collectively at the plate, Rollins said. Warren County totaled six hits. King and Skylar DeLutri led the way with a single and a double each.

“For the past few games, we were holding back and we weren’t being aggressive,” Rollins said. “We were being selective. Tonight we came out and swung the bats. Even if it didn’t drop, we were hitting it hard and that’s what we need.”

It was a mystifying follow-up effort for the Hawks, who cut down Thursday’s atrocious error total from nine to one and gave up 12 fewer runs, but also managed to score 23 less than against the Judges.

‘Our approach at the plate wasn’t the best tonight, and I think it got the best of us,” Hawks coach Jay Barnes said. “It changed as the game when on, and that was part of the problem. We didn’t stay with our approach and I think it turned out to be the demise of us.”