By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Strasburg has gotten strong pitching and solid defense all season long, and that winning formula continued for the Rams against Warren County on Tuesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The Rams backed pitchers Garrett Richards and Ryan Bowers -- who combined to allow just one hit -- with several key defensive plays, and a five-run fourth inning was enough to send Strasburg past the Wildcats in a 7-1 Bull Run District win.
Strasburg (12-1, 9-1 Bull Run), which hasn't allowed more than four runs in a game this season, has now won 10 in a row.
"I think a lot of people, to be honest, they just don't realize how big of a win this was for us," Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. "We had to come over here against a good arm [Wildcats starting pitcher John Reith], and we're pretty proud of our kids. ...When it's all said and done, I think we're going to look back on this and find that this win was really critical in maybe where we end up in the conference standings or something like that."
Richards, who started on the mound for the Rams on Tuesday, ran into trouble in the fourth inning but was bailed out by some timely hitting, sparkling defense and an effective relief outing by Bowers.
Strasburg gave Richards a 1-0 lead in the top of the second when freshman Josh Pritchett delivered an RBI single with the bases loaded, and that lead ballooned to 6-0 with a five-run outburst in the fourth inning.
Reith worked himself into trouble in the fourth as he hit two batters and walked another to load the bases with one out, and an error on a bunt by Rams' leadoff man Noah St. Clair allowed a run to score. Strasburg senior Ryan Murphy followed with an RBI single to center, and another error on the play allowed all three baserunners to cross the plate.
Junior catcher Ryan Smoot delivered an RBI double to right field off Warren County reliever Stephen Johnson with two outs to give Strasburg a 6-0 lead.
"[Reith] didn't have his great command tonight. I think if we saw him another night it might be different, so we caught a break," said Ryan Smoot, who was 2-for-3 with a walk, a double and an RBI. "And you've got to give us as hitters credit. We took close pitches. He's a really tough pitcher and we had a good approach and got him out of there early."
Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said Reith had started Monday night's game at Manassas Park, but was pulled after one inning following a 45-minute lightning delay.
"It was tough on him [Tuesday]. He cruised through the first inning and then I think he started missing high, got a little bit frustrated," Mathews said of Reith, who allowed six runs (four earned) on five hits, three walks and two hit batsmen in 3 1/3 innings. Reith struck out four.
Warren County (6-6, 4-5) mounted its first serious threat against Richards (3 1/3 innings, one hit, four walks, three strikeouts) in the bottom of the fourth, as senior Jontae Rollins laced a single to center field with one out and came around to score on a stolen base and two wild pitches.
Richards walked the next three batters to load the bases before giving way to Bowers. Strasburg's defense then came through in a big way as Bowers induced a ground ball from Julian Bussells, and Rams second baseman Evan Snapp fielded it, tagged second base and fired to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
"Bowers came in to get a double play right there. We needed to get a ground ball and he got the job done," Snapp said. "Luckily it was right to me, close enough where I could touch the bag and throw to first."
"Probably the play of the game -- everything from the pitch we made to how we handled it defensively," Jeff Smoot said. "At that time, a base hit right there, you're looking at an entirely different game."
The Rams' defense came through again in the fifth, as third baseman Ian Baker started a 5-4-3 double play to end the frame and neutralize a leadoff walk.
Bowers, a freshman, has seen limited action this season but didn't allow a hit in 3 2/3 innings of relief on Tuesday. He struck out five and walked three to earn the win.
"He was able to throw strikes, and when you're pitching with a five-run lead, that's a whole of it right there, if you can just fill up the strike zone. He was able to do that, really with two pitches and was able to make a pitch, locate a pitch for a strikeout when he needed to," Jeff Smoot said.
Strasburg added an insurance run in the top of the seventh, as Snapp (2-for-3, stolen base) hit an RBI single to left field.
Johnson (one hit allowed, two strikeouts) pitched 2 2/3 innings for Warren County, and Julian Bussells tossed the final inning for the Wildcats.
"We just didn't execute," Mathews said. "Unlike us, I thought their hitters had a good plan at the plate. They were looking for pitches in zones and if it wasn't there they weren't swinging.
"We still had our chances, and like I told our kids, tomorrow is another day. We've got three more chances this week."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD