By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Skyline saved one of its very best performances for one of the biggest games of the season.
The Hawks played well in every phase of the game as they knocked off crosstown-rival Warren County, 5-0, in the Conference 28 baseball tournament quarterfinals on Monday afternoon at Bing Crosby Stadium. The Wildcats beat the Hawks twice during the regular season.
"It was great, especially since they're our rival," Skyline senior Sterling Jennings said. "We did what we did when it mattered. We put the ball in play. It felt great."
Jennings had a lot to do with the Hawks' victory. He threw a complete game one-hitter and hit a solo home run.
"He pitched great," Skyline coach Jay Barnes said. "That was a great performance from him. He threw strikes all night long. That was the big thing -- he was around the strike zone all night."
The Hawks (8-13) took a quick 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Robert Presley reached on a two-base error, and Hunter Partlowe followed with a single. A wild pitch by Warren County starter John Reith scored Presley.
Reith struck out two consecutive batters, but another Warren County error scored Partlowe.
"Tonight, the errors early came back to haunt us," Warren County coach Vernon Mathews said. "It was a combination of that and bad at-bats and Sterling pitching well. Then when we finally could square up the ball, they caught everything we hit at them."
The Hawks added another run in the bottom of the third as Jennings powered a solo shot over the left-field wall for a 3-0 lead.
That was more than enough for Jennings, who only gave up a single to Eric Baker in the top of the fourth. Jennings struck out 11 and only threw 100 pitches.
The Hawks, who have struggled with errors at times this season, made only one error and made some stellar plays in the field throughout the game.
In the top of the fifth, Warren County's Robert Rutherford looked like he had a sure hit with no outs, but Skyline center fielder Marcus Burke made a diving catch. Jontae Rollins would later draw a walk and reach third on a throwing error in the inning.
"If that ball gets by [Burke], [Rutherford] would have been running for days," Barnes said. "Every once in a while we play a game like this, and it seems like the diving catches were going the other way. Tonight they went our way. We got some timely hits, some timely baserunning and came out with a win."
Mathews said he was very impressed with Skyline.
"That is probably the best game that any team has played against us this year," Mathews said. "I want to give all the credit to Skyline. They made every play. All the 50-50 balls they caught. It didn't roll out of their mitts. They made all their plays. Sterling [Jennings] got a little wild sometimes in the counts, but he came back every single time."
Warren County (8-13) has only three seniors, and Mathews said he's excited for what the future holds for his team, especially their pitching.
"We threw eight pitchers on the roster this year," Mathews said. "We have three guys with ERA's under two -- they're all coming back. All of our pitching's coming back. We got to make that our strength. We're going to have to play better defense behind the pitching, and we're going to have to execute on offense."
The Hawks were led at the plate by Presley, who reached base twice and had a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth.
Skyline plays at Loudoun Valley on Wednesday at 6 p.m., with a regional berth on the line. The Hawks lost 18-0 to the Vikings earlier this season.
"We didn't play very well down there last time, and hopefully we can put out a better effort this time," Barnes said.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org