Poor defense dooms Rams in loss

Strasburg's Adam Miller tries to break up a double play ball as he slides into second base during first inning action Wednesday night against Page County at First Bank Park. Page County's Tristan Eppard completed the double play ball with the out at first. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – It certainly looked like the first game of the high school baseball season for Strasburg’s defense Wednesday night.

The Rams committed six errors in helping visiting Page County build an early lead and needed five innings to figure out Panthers starting pitcher Seth Comer at the plate, and a late comeback bid by Strasburg fell short as it dropped its season opener, 11-9, at First Bank Park.

“We did not defend well enough to stay in the game,” said Rams coach Jeff Smoot, whose team is coming off back-to-back Group 2A state final four appearances. “We weren’t as good as we needed to be at the plate either early, but Comer’s a pretty good arm. What we were trying to do was get into their bullpen and we did. But we couldn’t defend well enough to keep it close enough to make any difference.”

Though the Rams’ shaky fielding buried them in an 11-3 hole, Strasburg (0-1) began mounting a rally against Comer and the Panthers (1-0) with six runs in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Strasburg senior outfield Nate Butler (2-for-3, two RBIs, walk) started the outburst with a solo home run to left-center field. Ryan Bowers followed with a single to center, and Comer – who had surrendered three hits and three walks through the first five innings – dealt a walk to Eric Reynolds to put two on with no outs. Comer threw two balls to Colten Smith before he was pulled in favor of Tristan Eppard.

Strasburg's first baseman Colten Smith gets under a fly ball in a game against Page County earlier this year. The Rams host Goochland today in a Region 2A semifinal game. Rich Cooley/Daily file

“He just ran out of gas,” Page County coach Wayne Comer said of his starting pitcher. “Tried to get more innings out of him. You know, it’s early in the year and we’ve had two scrimmages but he hadn’t thrown a lot. He’s coming off a hamstring pull, so I guess that started to bother him there at the end. But he battled.”

Smith would end up walking to load the bases before two more free passes to Austin Miller and No. 9 hitter Brian Scholten scored a pair of runs to pull the Rams within 11-6. Strasburg added two more runs when Adam Miller’s fly ball to the gap in left-center was dropped, and Butler notched his second RBI of the inning with a two-out single that cut Page County’s lead to 11-9.

“We tried to take more pitches at the plate and I felt like Comer started to have some issues with the strike zone. And as they went to the bullpen (Eppard) did as well,” Smoot said. “But even at the end we had our opportunities and we could not put together enough quality at-bats in the last two innings to do what we had to do.”

Strasburg sent the winning run to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning after walks by Reynolds and Scholten but couldn’t push any more runs across.

Seth Comer – who went 3-for-4 at the plate with three runs scored – allowed six earned runs on five hits, four walks and five strikeouts in five-plus innings of work, while Eppard allowed three runs (one earned) on one hit, five walks and three strikeouts in two innings.

Strasburg third baseman Eric Reynolds grimaces as he is unable to make a throw to first after holding Page County's Nathan Lucas on third base during second inning action Wednesday night at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

Page County opened an early lead against Strasburg starting pitcher Adam Miller, as Jacob Day (3-for-5, double, three RBIs) capped a string of three straight two-out singles with an RBI hit in the top of the first. The Panthers, with the help of two Strasburg errors and a leadoff homer by Dakota Thomas (three RBIs), added four more runs in the second to take a 5-0 lead.

The Rams committed at least one error in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings as Page County, which had 11 hits in the win, built an 11-3 lead.

“To Page County’s credit they did keep putting the ball in play. And some of the balls that they hit they squared up pretty good,” Smoot said. “But boy, you just can’t play defense like that.”

Strasburg got on the board in the bottom of the second on Smith’s RBI single to center, and the Rams added two more runs in the third to cut the Panthers’ lead to 6-3 when Butler beat out a throw from shortstop to second base on Bowers’ chopper with the bases loaded.

Adam Miller lasted three-plus innings and allowed nine runs (five earned) on nine hits, a walk and two strikeouts. Justin Rickard allowed two runs (one earned) on one hit, two walks and two strikeouts in two innings, while Austin Miller and Bowers combined to hold Page County to just one hit over the final two frames.

Strasburg's Adam Miller fires a pitch during first inning action against Page County on March 16 at First Bank Park. The Rams have two key Bull Run District contests this week against George Mason and Warren County. Rich Cooley/Daily file

“I don’t know that we pitched – that we were outstanding – but had we defended a little better I think our pitching would’ve looked a little better as well,” Smoot said.

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