By Brad Fauber
STRASBURG -- Strasburg's baseball team didn't expect anything to come easy in Monday night's Bull Run District matchup with visiting George Mason at First Bank Park. And nothing did.
Playing the Mustangs for the second time in three days, Strasburg held off a late rally by George Mason on Monday to squeeze out a 6-4 win, locking up the top seed and a first-round bye in next week's Conference 35 tournament in the process.
"Mason's a quality opponent, so you're always going to have to work for it against them. We know that," Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. "They're not going to give you a whole lot. You're going to have to go out and earn everything."
Strasburg (17-1, 14-1 Bull Run) -- which extended its winning streak to 15 straight games -- methodically built a 5-1 lead heading into the sixth inning, but then things got interesting.
Strasburg starting pitcher Tyler Doman notched a strikeout to open the top of the sixth but then surrendered a single to Grant Hagler and a walk to Gabe Terry, prompting Smoot to turn to left-handed reliever Garrett Richards.
"My arm started to get a little tired, started to get a little sore. I just lost a little control, on my fastball especially," said Doman, who allowed three runs (all earned) on two hits and six walks while striking out six.
Richards dealt a walk to load the bases and then got a big strikeout for the second out of the sixth before giving way to junior right-hander Ryan Smoot. Mustangs (13-6, 11-4) junior Sam Selby immediately drove in a run on an infield single to the right side of the infield as Ryan Smoot was late covering first.
"My mound youth got the best of me there for a second, but that's just my mistake," Ryan Smoot said of Selby's infield single. "Whether you've been out there on the mound a lot or not, you've got to get over."
Chris Meador then ripped a hard grounder that took a high hop over the glove of Rams third baseman Josh Pritchett. Two more runs crossed the plate to cut Strasburg's lead to 5-4, but Rams left fielder Noah St. Clair ended the inning by throwing out Selby as he tried to advance to third.
"[Selby] hesitated rounding second and then he decided to go. Once you hesitate you're pretty much done for," Mustangs coach Adam Amerine said. "We got a little rally going and that will kill it in a heart beat."
Strasburg added a big insurance run in the bottom of the sixth inning. Senior Evan Snapp tripled to center field with one out, and Ryan Smoot dropped down a squeeze bunt one batter later to plate Snapp and give the Rams a 6-4 lead.
"It starts with Evan's at-bat, that was a great at-bat. ... He was able to get to third. [Doman] battled and got himself on [with a walk]. You're just trying to get it anywhere where you can score the runner and we were able to do that," said Ryan Smoot, who was 1-for-1 with two walks and two runs scored.
Ryan Smoot closed out the game for his third save with an uneventful seventh inning, striking out two batters in the process.
Strasburg took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning with a pair of runs off Mustangs starting pitcher Evan Davis (four innings, three runs, five hits, five walks). Ryan Smoot started the rally with a one-out single and Mark Smoot walked to put two on.
Pritchett (2-for-3) -- the Rams' No. 8 hitter -- then laced a double to left-center to score the game's first run. St. Clair plated the inning's second run with a sacrifice fly.
Strasburg added another run in the third on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Murphy before the Mustangs scored their first run of the game on a single by Marsden Davis -- George Mason's first hit of the evening -- with two outs in the top of the fifth.
The Rams scored twice more in the bottom of the fifth off Mustangs reliever Jake Abruzzi. Two walks and a single by Pritchett loaded the bases for the Rams with one out in the fifth, and ninth hitter Ian Butler worked a walk to score a run. St. Clair then delivered another sacrifice fly to give Strasburg a 5-1 lead.
"We could never quite get the big hit to maybe break it open, but we were able to scratch around, get a sac fly, lay a bunt down -- the kind of things that generally you've got to do to beat good teams," Jeff Smoot said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD