Pitching propels Rams past Clarke County

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s pitching staff continued to shine against visiting Clarke County on Thursday night at First Bank Park.

Rams starting pitcher Mark Smoot limited the Eagles to one unearned run in six innings of work and senior Garrett Richards closed the door in the seventh for his first save of the season as Strasburg picked up a 2-1 Bull Run District win.

“Those two guys weren’t solid. They were outstanding,” Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. “Mark with six innings, that’s a pretty good night’s work. And the toughest three outs in baseball are the last three and we handed the ball to Garrett and asked him to do it against, as it turns out, the top of their order. But those guys were very, very good. Both of them.”

Mark Smoot labored through high pitch totals early on Thursday night and was sitting at 84 pitches after four innings but appeared to become more effective as the game went on. The senior left-hander retired the final seven batters he faced before handing the ball to Richards in the seventh.

Mark Smoot scattered three hits and three walks while striking out seven batters.

Clarke County’s lone run came in the top of the third inning on a Strasburg throwing error. Of the Eagles’ three hits in the game, two were infield singles off the bat of No. 9 hitter Travis Elsea (2-for-2, walk) and the other was a bloop single to right field by Michael Fields.

“Some of those innings were tough, had some runners on,” said Mark Smoot, who stranded six runners, including three in scoring position. “I was just trying to make them hit me. They didn’t really hit me hard all night so I was just trying to throw strikes, but also spot the ball up. Until they started to hit me hard, if there was a point in the game where they started to hit me hard, then I might’ve done something different, tried to locate better. But they didn’t do that all night, so I was just trying to pound the zone.”

Though Clarke County scored only the one run, the Eagles put at least one runner on base in five of the seven innings.

“There was not one easy inning out of those seven,” Jeff Smoot said. “Clarke made us have to bust our tails out there. Defensively and our pitchers, we just had to work our tails off to get them out.”

With Strasburg (7-0) leading 2-1 in the top of the seventh inning, Richards – typically a starting pitcher – opened the frame with a strikeout before dealing a walk to Elsea.

Elsea moved safely to second after he got caught too far off the bag at first on a pickoff throw by Rams catcher Ryan Smoot, but Richards induced a fly out by Clarke County leadoff man Jordon Turner and got Alex Dobry to ground out to end the game.

“We do pretty good under pressure. Nobody really cracks,” Richards said.

“First pitch, kind of shaky. I threw it right in the dirt. But after that I just relaxed. My curveball was really nice tonight.”

Offensively, Strasburg struggled to generate runs against Clarke County starter Cody Santmyer. The junior right-hander allowed only four hits and struck out seven in his 4 2/3 innings but he walked six and hit a batter.

The Rams, however, stranded seven runners – five in scoring position – and left the bases loaded in the fifth.

“Too many strikeouts, certainly,” Jeff Smoot said. “Our approach at the plate was not very good, I don’t think. And we would not adjust very well to the way that we were being pitched. Obviously I think some of that is because of Santmyer. You’ve got to give him some credit.”

Strasburg’s decisive runs came in the bottom of the third inning. Noah St. Clair led off the inning with a single on a sharp grounder up the middle and Ryan Smoot (2-for-2, double) followed with a single to center on a playable fly ball that got lost in the twilight sky.

Both runners moved up on a balk by Santmyer, and Rams junior cleanup hitter Nate Butler delivered a two-run single one out later on a sharp grounder to left field with the infield drawn in. Butler was thrown out at second try to advance on the relay throw.

“The difference ultimately comes down to one mistake we make in the field,” Eagles coach Jon Novick said. “We lose a ball in the lights, we lose a ball above the lights and that ultimately is the difference in the game. That’s not something you can blame for the whole game. We had our chances. We had runners on second and third several times and couldn’t punch that run in. It’s been the story of our lives all year.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com