Rams down Mustangs to close out perfect season
Strasburg's Ryan Smoot celebrates after scoring in the second inning on a hit by Nathan Butler during their game against George Mason at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Ryan Smoot points to second base after he scored off Nathan Butler's hit in the second inning that drove in two runs during Thursday night's game against George Mason at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Cory Clinedinst attempts a bunt during third-inning action against George Mason at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily
George Mason's Noah Anderson holds Strasburg's Ryan Smoot after he was caught in a rundown while trying to steal second base during fifth-inning action Thursday night in Strasburg. Smoot was tagged out on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Mark Smoot fires a pitch during Thursday night's game against George Mason at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg head coach Jeff Smoot has a meeting with his team during their May 14 game with George Mason at First Bank Field in Strasburg. The Rams face Lebanon today in the Group 2A state tournament semifinals in Radford. Rich Cooley/Daily file

STRASBURG – Strasburg’s baseball team had already locked up the top seed in both the Bull Run District and Conference 35 tournaments heading into Thursday’s night’s regular-season finale against visiting George Mason. But the Rams were still playing for something.

With a chance to join exclusive company, the Rams kept their unblemished run intact with an 8-1 win over the Mustangs, becoming just the second Strasburg baseball team in school history to go unbeaten during the regular season. The 2000 team that reached the Group A state championship game also accomplished the feat.

“Coach [Jeff] Smoot, right before the game, he told us there was only like one other team that’s done this. We just wanted to keep that alive right there, keep that record going,” Rams junior Nate Butler said. ” … We’re just out here trying to play our best.”

Strasburg’s offense got going early against Mustangs starting pitcher Logan Nesson, as the Rams – who beat George Mason 3-1 on Monday – raced out to a five-run lead after two innings. The Rams went on to bang out 11 hits against George Mason pitching – including three doubles – and worked six walks.

“We played well early against a good team,” Smoot said. “No question, they’re very, very solid and we saw a decent arm. We challenged our kids to answer the bell and I think they did.

“I think that we were patient and we made Nesson have to pitch. When he couldn’t command the strike zone real well, I think he got a little frustrated and we were able to throw a hit or two in there to really kind of seal things.”

The Rams (19-0, 16-0 Bull Run) scored a run in the bottom of the first inning on Mark Smoot’s two-out RBI single to left field and added four more runs in the second, including three on Butler’s double to left field.

Nesson, who lasted only two innings in the loss, worked himself into trouble in the second inning as he walked the bases loaded with one out before plunking Ryan Smoot (1-for-1, two RBIs, two runs) with a pitch to score a run. Nesson followed with a strikeout for the inning’s second out, but Butler ripped a 2-2 pitch to the fence in left field to clear the bases and give Strasburg a 5-0 lead.

“Coach [Joel] Morgan, right before I went up, he told me that I have to look for something to hit, because somebody has to get something to hit here,” Butler said. “So I was sitting in there, I was looking for a curveball right there and he threw a fastball. It wasn’t too fast so I could react to it and I just shot it out there.”

George Mason (16-3, 13-3) head coach Adam Amerine said Nesson’s control issues – he walked five and hit a batter – were uncharacteristic of the junior right-hander.

“They do a good job. They’re very disciplined at the plate, so they’re not going to expand the zone,” Amerine said. “It’s going to force you to put the ball over the plate and we left a couple up and they hit it hard.”

Strasburg’s early run support was plenty for Mark Smoot, who pitched six innings while allowing an earned run on four hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Mark Smoot didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, when he was able to escape a bases-loaded jam unscathed.

The Mustangs’ lone run came on Gabe Terry’s double down the left-field line in the sixth inning after Mark Smoot dealt a pair of two-out walks.

Strasburg scored one run in the bottom of the fourth against reliever Chris Meador on Adam Miller’s RBI groundout and added two more in the fifth against Mustangs junior Jake Abruzzi. Brian Scholten, the Rams’ No. 9 hitter, and Noah St. Clair led off the fifth with back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners, and Scholten scored on Ryan Smoot’s shallow pop-up behind second that fell in for a single. St. Clair stole home later in the frame as Ryan Smoot purposely got himself into a rundown between first and second base on a steal attempt.

Strasburg got good production from the bottom of its order on Thursday night, as Austin Miller and Scholten (2-for-3, two runs) combined for three hits, two walks and three runs scored and started both of the Rams’ scoring rallies in the second and fifth innings.

“The bottom half of our order was very good in the game at Falls Church,” Jeff Smoot said, referring to Monday’s game against the Mustangs. “They’ve had a good week for us.”

Strasburg returns to action at home next Monday in the quarterfinal round of the Bull Run District tournament. The Rams, who will have a bye in the first round of the Conference 35 tournament the following week, are three wins shy of tying the school record for consecutive wins set during last year’s run to the Group 2A state championship game.

“That’s such a difficult thing to do in sports in general is to go through your season undefeated,” Jeff Smoot said. ” … Baseball is just not a game that you win every day. There’s pitching match-ups, there’s so many factors. I think that’s quite an accomplishment for our guys in what I think is a very solid district with some very good teams, to be very honest.”

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

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