Bowers, Rams hold off rival Falcons

STRASBURG – Ryan Bowers admits his nerves were “pretty wild” on the mound in the top of the seventh inning of Strasburg’s baseball game against rival Central on Friday night. Given the situation, that’s not surprising.

The Rams entered the final inning holding a three-run lead, which the Falcons erased to just one run before Strasburg could record an out in the seventh. But with the tying run standing at third base, Bowers dug in.

The junior right-hander notched back-to-back strikeouts to halt Central’s rally in its tracks, capping a gutsy complete-game effort in the Rams’ thrilling 9-8 Bull Run District/Conference 35 win.

Strasburg, which scored all of its runs in the first four innings, carried a 9-6 lead into the seventh inning before Falcons senior Corey Sibert crushed Bowers’ 100th pitch well over the fence in left-center for a leadoff home run.

“The mentality coming out (for the seventh inning) was good,” said Bowers, who threw 119 pitches in the win. “We had the three-run lead and their first baseman hits a shot (to the opposite field). And I mean it’s a shot. That kind of put me down a little bit but I couldn’t really do anything about it.”

Jordon Hosaflook followed with a lining double that glanced off the glove of a diving Justin Rickard in center field, and a Strasburg double error put two in scoring position for Central with no outs. An RBI groundout by Tyler Cline pulled the Falcons within one.

But the bottom of Central’s order, which struggled against Bowers all night, couldn’t extend the rally – and the game – any further. Bowers blew a high fastball by Johnathan Baker for the inning’s second out, then did the same with John French on a 1-2 pitch to seal the win.

“Early in the game they couldn’t hit (high fastballs), so might as well keep throwing them,” said Bowers, who notched eight strikeouts against the bottom third of Central’s batting order.

Bowers was charged with eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits and a walk, but he also struck out a career high 13 batters and still had plenty of zip on his fastball despite a pitch count that neared 120 pitches.

“I don’t really think the score reflected how well he pitched,” Rams coach Jeff Smoot said. “We kept looking out there and seeing a guy that we felt like was throwing the ball really well.”

Strasburg (8-5, 5-2 Bull Run, 3-1 Conference 35) appeared ready to blow the game open with three runs in each of the first, third and fourth innings, but Central’s bats came alive with five unanswered runs.

The Falcons (4-9, 2-5, 1-3) started the string of runs with a pair with two outs in the top of the fifth inning, as Sibert doubled down the first-base line and Hosaflook singled up the middle for RBIs.

Central, aided by three Strasburg errors, added another run in the sixth on an RBI groundout by Tristan Rau.

The top half of Central’s batting order looked sharp on Friday, as Luke Estep (two runs), Hank Hoover (home run, two RBIs), Sibert (two RBIs) and Hosaflook (two RBIs) each had two hits.

“We’ve been working hard on our approach at the plate,” Falcons coach Donn Foltz said. “For like the last week or so really working hard, concentrating. I didn’t feel like we had good concentration at the plate (in recent games) and tonight I think we did for the most part.”

Strasburg got plenty of overdue production from the top half of its lineup, as well, beginning in the bottom of the first inning. Adam Miller got hit by Estep to lead off the frame, and Colten Smith followed with an infield single on a chopper to short. With one out, Nate Butler jumped on a 1-1 offering and sent it into the bullpen beyond the left field fence for a three-run homer and a 3-1 lead.

The Rams’ one through five hitters – Miller, Smith, Josh Pritchett, Butler (four RBIs) and Bowers – combined for six of the team’s seven hits, six RBIs and all nine runs scored.

“Coach Smoot had a long talk with us, and I think that kind of sparked us a little bit,” said Butler, who has three home runs this season. “We were able to come out here and produce a little better and have the right mindset, being focused toward the game, the pitch we’re looking for and stuff like that.”

Hoover tied the game at 3-3 in the third inning with a two-run homer to right – his first of the year – before Estep lost his command in the third and allowed three runs to cross the plate on two hit batters and a walk with the bases loaded.

The Rams took a 9-3 lead in the fourth on a Central error that allowed Miller – who led off with a double – to score from second and Bowers’ two-run double to left.

Estep lasted just 3 1/3 innings for Central while allowing nine runs (eight earned) on five hits, two walks and five hit batters. He struck out five. Jared Rice was solid in relief, as he allowed two hits and a walk over the final 2 2/3.

“Something about Strasburg, man, I can bring my best pitcher in there and it’s just not his night,” Foltz said. “We made a couple miscues behind him, and that’s just baseball.”

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

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