Wildcats down Falcons, move on to semis

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County was able to do what Central couldn’t during Monday’s Conference 28 baseball tournament quarterfinal game — drive in runs with runners in scoring position.

The Wildcats erupted for eight combined runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings against the Falcons, and Central struggled to take advantage of early scoring opportunities in Warren County’s 8-2 win at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The win advances the No. 3 Wildcats to Wednesday’s semifinal game at second-seeded John Champe, which begins at 6 p.m.

“The key for us was early in the game when they had a chance to do a lot more damage,” Wildcats coach Vernon Mathews said. “We were able to hold that down and then finally our bats came around where we were able to execute. The difference was we were able to hold them from having big innings and then we were able to get big innings.”

Sixth-seeded Central (7-15) jumped out to an early lead against Warren County starting pitcher Austin King. The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when junior Corey Sibert’s fly ball to deep left field was dropped for an error with a runner on third base and Sibert plated his second RBI in the third inning on a double to left-center to give Central a two-run lead.

But Central’s lead could’ve been much bigger. The Falcons stranded seven runners in scoring position in the first four innings and left 10 runners total on the bases.

“We had many opportunities early and it just didn’t come through,” Falcons coach Donn Foltz said. “We had our chances and I think we let them off the hook a little bit early it seemed like. The boys came out with a lot of energy and it just didn’t come out. That’s baseball.”

Warren County (16-8) answered with a three-run spurt in the bottom of the third against Falcons starter Hank Hoover to take the lead. Rhett Tierney and Cameron Ford led off the inning with back-to-back singles from the bottom of the Wildcats’ lineup, and leadoff man Joseph Rutherford walked to load the bases with no outs. Two runs came in on Robert Rutherford’s RBI groundout that was compounded by a Central throwing error, and King gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead with an RBI groundout.

The Wildcats added four more runs in the fourth inning against reliever Luke Estep, who surrendered a one-out single to Blake Cockrell before walking Tierney and Ford to once again load the bases. Two runs scored on wild pitches and Robert Rutherford blew the game open with a two-run single to right against Central’s Cody Sager that gave Warren County a 7-2 lead.

A Central error scored the Wildcats’ eighth run in the fifth.

“We came out flat a little bit,” Robert Rutherford said. “I think we might’ve taken them lightly but finally started putting together some good at-bats and getting some runs across.

“We just really weren’t having good at-bats, swinging at a lot of bad pitches and we finally started swinging at a pitch we could drive instead of just pitches that [result in] rollover groundballs to shortstop. Really looking for pitches that we could drive to the outfield.”

Warren County tallied just five hits against the Falcons but three of those came from the bottom of third of the Wildcats’ batting order. Cockrell, Tierney and Ford combined to go 3-for-6 with three singles, three walks and five runs scored.

“We really needed it. I know at one point we had a guy on third with one out and our three-four hitters, who have carried us all year, struck out,” Mathews said. “Some of the guys at the bottom of the order did a fantastic job for us.”

King pitched four innings and allowed two earned runs on six hits, two walks, a hit-by-pitch and five strikeouts. Senior John Reith pitched the final three innings for the Wildcats and allowed a hit and a walk while striking out five.

Hoover, Estep and Sager (2 2/3 innings pitched, one unearned run, one hit) combined to deal eight walks on the mound for Central, whose season came to an end with Monday’s loss.

“Like I told the boys, things don’t always go the way you want them to do but that’s why you’ve got to improve,” Foltz said. “And when your chances come, go for it. Good group of seniors, wish them well. A couple of them have been with me a long time and it was a good ride.”

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