By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- Sometimes, you have to take a shot.
That's what Warren County High School baseball coach Vernon Mathews' thinking during the top of the sixth inning on Thursday against host Central. With his team trailing by a run and speedy Jontae Rollins ensconced on second base after a successful stolen base, Mathews never hesitated in sending his runner to home when Julian Bussells slapped a single into short center field.
Rollins didn't have a chance. Central's Jordan Rau cleanly fielded the ball and came up firing to cutoff man Sam Cornman, who relayed the ball to catcher Zach Herbaugh well in time to make the play at the plate. The Falcons tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the inning to notch a 5-2 victory that dropped the Wildcats to the No. 5 seed in next Monday's opening round of the Conference 28 tournament.
"Sometimes you've got to push the envelope a little bit and take some chances," Mathews said of the play.
Central coach Donn Foltz knows all too well the tricks his home field can play.
"I've seen it lots of times in the Valley League," Foltz said. "It's sort of an optical illusion. That short porch in center can fool you sometimes."
The game really didn't affect much in terms of next week's conference tournament. Central was already locked in as the No. 3 seed and will host No. 6 John Champe in a 3 p.m. game on Monday, while the Wildcats will still play on their home field at Bing Crosby Stadium against No. 4 seed Skyline. That game is set for 6 p.m. on Monday.
Warren County (8-12, 7-10 Bull Run District) had a tough time in the field on a sunny and windy day in Woodstock. The Wildcats committed six errors, leading to most of Central's scoring and spoiling a solid start by Wildcats junior right-handed pitcher Austin King.
"We can't put all three phases together," Mathews said. "We've got to put all the phases together -- pitching, hitting and fielding -- and play a complete game."
Central (10-9, 8-7 Bull Run) broke through for a run in the bottom of the third on Hayden Bauserman's sacrifice fly RBI.
The Wildcats answered with two runs in the top of the fourth against Central starting pitcher Cody Sager. King slapped a one-out single to center, Bussells followed by reaching on an error and Blake Cockrill singled to load the bases.
Sager should have escaped the jam when he cleanly fielded Rhett Tierney's come backer and fired home for a force out, but catcher Herbaugh airmailed a throw down the first-base line when he tried to complete a double play. The Wildcats scored twice off that play.
The Falcons came right back in the bottom of the fourth. Zach Hamman drove in a run on a groundout, and then Central scored another on Warren County's second error of the inning.
Herbaugh more than made up for his errant throw in the top of the fifth by standing his ground at home plate for the collision with Rollins, and he also led Central's offense with a 3-for-4 effort. His one-out single in the bottom of the sixth ignited the Falcons' last rally. Sager followed by reaching on an error, prompting Mathews to bring in reliever John Reith.
Reith walked Bauserman to load the bases, then Cornman singled to left to drive in a run and Brandon Paschall plated another with an RBI groundout.
"That was a big hit by Cornman," Foltz said. "When you're on the bump, it's a lot more delightful to pitch with a 5-2 lead than a 3-2 lead."
Central got solid pitching from Sager and reliever Zach Hamman, who fired three scoreless innings of relief to earn the save. Warren County managed just four hits, with Bussells accounting for two.
Central finished with six hits, but never lacked for base runners thanks to the Wildcats' porous defense. The Falcons also drew a pair of walks and were twice hit by pitches in the win.
King went 5 1/3 innings for the Wildcats and finished with five strikeouts. Sager picked up the win, and Hamman fanned the final two batters to lock down the save.
"We got some quality innings today," Foltz said. "Zach Hamman came in and gave us three really great innings."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>