Timely hits, defense help spark Falcons past Hawks

Skyline shortstop Makaela Dawkins loses control of the ball as she prepares to tag out Central's Dana Painter on a second base steal attempt during fifth inning action Monday evening in Front Royal. Painter was safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Central’s Bekah Ansbro and Skyline’s Tamara Grayson were locked in a pitchers’ duel on Monday afternoon. A couple timely hits and defense proved to be the difference for Central.

The Falcons pulled out a 3-1 non-district softball victory over the Hawks with the two teams combining for just seven hits.

“Skyline has always been a rally solid team, so we knew that we were going to have some competition tonight,” Ansbro said. “Honestly our warm-ups were not our best. We were pretty rough, missing ground balls, making over throws. But I said, ‘You know what, we got ’em all out. Now let’s go out and have a good game,’ and we did.”

Neither team had a base runner in the first three innings. Grayson struck out five, while Ansbro struck out six.

In the top of the fourth, the Falcons took the lead. Central’s Shennan Waldron reached on an error, and a sacrifice bunt by Brooke Sager moved Waldron to second. Central’s Kristina Stead drew a walk from Grayson bringing Ansbro to the plate.

Central's Brooke Sager slides safely into third on a right field hit while Skyline's Tori Jo Brown hits the dirt, attempting to catch a late throw during the sixth inning of Monday evening's game in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ansbro drilled a pitch into right field for a two-run triple to give the Falcons a 2-0 edge. Ansbro said she took the advice of Central coach Lisa Rhodes and it paid off.

“Coach (Rhodes) had come down to talk to me while their catcher went out to talk to their pitcher, and she said, ‘Hey jump on one early in the count.’ And I said, ‘All right. I’ll see you soon,'” Ansbro said. “So I hit the first pitch I could, tried to take it opposite field, and hit it where it was pitched. I was glad there were runners on base for that. I showed up at third and I said, ‘Well I said see you soon. So here I am.'”

That was all the runs that Ansbro and her teammates needed, but things didn’t always come easily for the Falcons.

The Hawks (1-2) responded in the bottom of the fourth, in what could have been a big inning.

Skyline’s Rachel Sirbaugh led off with a single, and Grayson reached on an error. Skyline’s Makaela Dawkins followed with an RBI double into left field to cut the lead to 2-1.

Central's Alisia Turner tags out Skyline's Rachel Sirbaugh as she heads for third base during sixth inning action Monday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

With runners on second and third and no outs, Ansbro struck out two of the next three batters and induced a pop out by Jessica Sims to end the threat.

“I trust my defense and I trust coach Rhodes to call pitches that she thinks are right for the situation,” Ansbro said. “I trust (Central catcher) Kylie (Stottlemyer) behind the plate. I knew that we would be able to come back and score one or two more runs, so I wasn’t too concerned. We just had to really buckle down and get some outs.”

Rhodes said she was very impressed with how the Falcons were able to get out of the jam.

“I told them in the meeting out here (after the game), I said things started to unravel a little bit and I wondered if you needed a visit. But you guys stopped it. You stopped the unraveling,” Rhodes said. “They did a really good job of preventing further damage.”

The Falcons (3-0) added to the lead in the top of the sixth. Sager led off with a triple, and with one out an RBI groundout by Ansbro gave Central a 3-1 lead.

Central's Kristina Stead, left, gets a high five from Alisia Turner on Monday after scoring in the fourth inning of their softball game against Skyline in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Hawks had another opportunity to score in the bottom of the sixth. Sirbaugh singled and moved to second on an error. With one out, Dawkins flied out to Central left fielder Lexi Rau, who then threw a perfect strike to third baseman Alisa Turner who tagged out Sirbaugh at third for an inning-ending double play.

“I was a little upset that I didn’t get a strikeout on that changeup,” Ansbro said. “But after (Rau) did that, I was like that’s way cooler than a strikeout and we got two outs of it. So I’ll take that.”

Despite the loss, Skyline coach John Ritter said he was pleased with his team.

“I think we’re a good team, and I like the competition and when our bats get to rolling we’ll be fine,” Ritter said. “We’re just stringing too many hits out. We just can’t get them close together. You can’t leave girls on base like that. That’s just part of it.”

Grayson allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked only one. The Hawks have a tough schedule to start the season. They lost to Brentsville, 2-0, last week. The Tigers have advanced to the Group 3A state semifinals the last two years.

Skyline pitcher Tamara Grayson fires a pitch during their softball game against Central on Monday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ritter said he feels good about his team this season.

“Games like this let you know where you’re at and who you are,” Ritter said. “Right now I think we’re a good team. I don’t think we’re no middle of the road team. I think we’re better than that. We just got to get the bats rolling. Hitting’s contagious and it’s coming. I can see it. We’ve just got to string them together.”

Ansbro allowed three hits, struck out 10 with no walks. Darden Lear and Stottlemyer each had a hit to go with Central’s two triples.

Ansbro said the win against Skyline is a good barometer for how the season can go for the Falcons.

“I think this is one of the more difficult teams we play. So coming out here and playing a tough game against them shows a lot about our team and how the season’s going to go,” Ansbro said. “… I’m excited. I didn’t know how we were going to be coming in, just because we have some girls in different spots. It’s an exciting team, and we’re ready for the season.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com

Central's Rebekah Ansbro fires a pitch against Skyline on Monday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's softball team celebrates after a win against Skyline earlier this season. The Falcons take on Glenvar in the Group 2A state semifinals on Friday in Salem. Rich Cooley/Daily