Dragons stage late rally to down Wildcats

FRONT ROYAL — Warren County kept William Monroe’s bats in check for most of Thursday night’s Bull Run District baseball tournament championship at Bing Crosby Stadium. But the Green Dragons broke through in the seventh inning.

The No. 3 Wildcats saw their one-run lead vanish in the final inning as seniors Keegan Woolford and Jeff Early delivered RBIs for William Monroe, and the fifth-seeded Dragons held on for a 2-1 win and the district tournament title.

“We’ve been swinging really well until this game,” said Dragons coach Mike Maynard, whose team extended its winning streak to seven games. ” … We just believe. We’re playing really well right now. We’re getting healthy and we’re getting healthy at the right time. [The Wildcats] played their butt off, too.”

With the Conference 28 tournament starting next Monday, both teams took a committee approach on the mound Thursday night to keep everyone fresh and eligible for the start of true postseason play. Warren County (15-8) used three different pitchers, while the Dragons used six.

Wildcats starter Austin King (three innings pitched, three hits, three hit batters) and reliever John Reith (two innings pitched, one hit, two strikeouts) shut out William Monroe through the first five innings and Stephen Johnson pitched a scoreless sixth before running into trouble in the top of the seventh.

Dragons junior Hunter Foster (3-for-3) led off the inning with a single and was sacrificed to second base by No. 9 hitter Anthony Pritchett, setting up leadoff man Woolford – last season’s Conference 28 Player of the Year – with an RBI opportunity. Woolford got ahead in the count 3-1 before ripping a run-scoring double to right-center that tied the game.

Early immediately followed with an RBI single to right field to give William Monroe (15-7-1) the lead before Johnson prevented further damage. The Dragons finished with seven hits in the win.

“They were able to get one of their guys at the bottom of the order on and their one-two hitters are pretty damn good,” Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said.

“They did the job and their hitters got hits. Their big guys got hits for them and we weren’t able to answer.”

Warren County appeared to be starting a late rally of its own in the bottom of the seventh inning, as junior Robert Rutherford led off with a walk and senior Eric Baker followed with a bunt single to put two runners on with no outs. But Rutherford committed a costly baserunning mistake when he was picked off by Monroe’s Brian Bohlman at second base with cleanup hitter Austin King at the plate.

“We made some baserunning mistakes that really hurt us,” Mathews said. “Early in the game getting picked off first and then of course runners on first and second, no outs in an inning where we’ve got to score a run — that was crucial. Good pickoff move. They executed.”

Spencer Eldrige came on in relief after Bohlman dealt two straight balls to King, and Eldridge walked King before getting a fly out and a groundout to end the game. Bohlman, a freshman, got the win after pitching 1 1/3 scoreless innings.

“I had two guys that couldn’t throw at all. I threw two JV pitchers. It was amazing,” Maynard said. “In baseball you just never know.”

Warren County tallied six hits – including doubles by Joseph Rutherford and Baker (2-for-3) – against William Monroe’s six pitchers, but mustered just one run despite putting the leadoff man on base in four different innings.

The Wildcats’ lone run – charged to starting pitcher Early – came in the bottom of the third inning when sophomore Cameron Ford led off with a single and scored on a two-out error on King’s routine groundball to short. Warren County stranded nine runners in the loss and left the bases loaded twice.

“We want to win this game but starting Monday it’s win or go home, so it’s all about getting ready for the playoffs,” said Mathews, whose team will host Central in the Conference 28 quarterfinals at 7 p.m. “Playing this game helps us because we were in a tight game and we’ll get a feel for it. Hopefully next time we’re in this position we execute and come out with a W.”

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