Brown delivers win for Hawks

Warren County shortstop Arianna Smoot, right, tags out Skyline's Makaela Dawkins at second base while holding a runner on third base during a steal attempt in the first inning of Thursday night's game at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Thursday might as well have been called “Tori Jo Brown Day” at Skyline High School.

Earlier in the day, Brown celebrated her recent signing to play Division I softball at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore during a ceremony after school. Just a few hours later Brown gave her day a storybook ending.

As Skyline squared off against cross-town rival Warren County in a Conference 28 rematch Thursday evening, it was Brown who delivered the game winner with a walk-off single to give the Hawks a 4-3 win.

“This is a pretty great day,” said Brown, who was all smiles after the Hawks’ fourth victory in a row and second over the Wildcats this season.

“I’m just pretty happy. I’m pretty excited. I just wanna keep playing now!”

Skyline's Natasha Grayson, center, is congratulated by Rachel Sirbaugh, right, after hitting a solo home run against Warren County earlier this year. The Hawks play at Warhill today in a Region 3A East semifinal. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Thursday’s matchup seemed destined for extra innings as the two rivals found themselves deadlocked in a 3-3 tie with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Skyline junior Jessica Sims flipped the script quickly with a first-pitch double off the base of the fence in left-center field, her second double in as many at-bats.

That brought Skyline slugger Makaela Dawkins to plate, who drew a second consecutive intentional walk from Warren County while Sims alertly stole third base with the Wildcats’ infield shifted to the right side.

Brown, who watched with slight irritation from the on-deck circle as Wildcats starting pitcher Elizabeth Keener intentionally pitched around Dawkins, wasted no time playing hero. With runners at the corners, she jumped on the first pitch from Keener, sending a sharp grounder back up the middle to plate Sims for the winning run.

“They think that (Dawkins is) the only hitter. I mean, the other teams have to realize that the rest of us can hit too,” said Brown, who finished with two RBIs in the win. “We’re all strong hitters. We’re a power-hitting team.

“So, I just wanted to show them up – just a little bit,” she added with a good-natured laugh.

Warren County first baseman Georgia Romer snags Skyline's Rachel Sirbaugh after a getting caught in a double play from a caught line drive during third inning action Thursday night at Skyline High School. Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline (7-5), who topped the Wildcats 10-1 in their first meeting on March 30, jumped on Warren County (6-6) quickly with two runs off Keener (6.2 innings pitched, four earned runs, three strikeouts) in the bottom of the first inning.

Freshman Rachel Sirbaugh (2-for-3) led off the frame with a walk, which Sims followed with a single before both runners moved into scoring position on a wild pitch. Dawkins then grounded an RBI single into left, and Brown’s grounder that was misplayed at short plated a second run for a 2-0 lead.

“That leadoff walk started the game, that’s stuff that we know we can’t do,” Wildcats coach Justin Stock said, “especially (because) they’ve got a good middle-of-the-order lineup. That one definitely hurt and we kicked the ball around a little bit there to help them out. But (Keener) definitely threw a bit better, had much more control (than the teams’ first meeting).”

Skyline starting pitcher Tamara Grayson – who allowed three runs (two earned) on seven hits and six strikeouts over seven innings – stifled the Wildcats at the plate until the fourth inning, when Warren County erupted for three runs to take a 3-2 lead.

The inning began with consecutive singles by Morgan Coons, Arianna Smoot (2-for-3, stolen base) and Keener (3-for-3), the last of which plated the Wildcats’ first run to cut Skyline’s lead in half. An RBI groundout by Jayda Saulsbury tied the game with two outs before Anneslee Cockrell floated an RBI single into center that dropped in front of Sims.

Skyline's Tamara Grayson fires a pitch during a game against Warren County earlier this season. s this week, coming off a dramatic win over Warren County. Rich Cooley/Daily file

Warren County’s lead was short-lived, however, as Hawks sophomore Natasha Grayson hit a solo home run to left-center with two outs in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game.

Skyline’s final two runs of the game were scored with two outs.

“I think it’s just with two outs we never wanna give up,” said Sims, who was 3-for-4 with two doubles and two runs scored. “We know our teammates will put everything on the line for us so when we go up there we wanna do the exact same. We wanna go ahead and start the rally, be the leaders of the team and really set the baseline for the team and how we’re doing.”

Warren County had a chance to break the tie in the sixth as they put runners at the corners to lead off the inning after singles by Smoot and Keener, but the rally was halted when Dawkins made a great grab on a rising line drive off the bat of Amelia Abrego at short to double up Keener, who had taken off on a steal attempt.

“We didn’t hit the ball well at times when we needed to. We had a lot of weak groundouts and weak pop ups. Just a little bad luck in the inning with the line drive and she’s stealing on the pitch,” Stock said. “… (Abrego) hit the ball hard and most shortstops probably don’t make that play.”

Warren County's Elizabeth Keener fires a pitch during Thursday night's game against Skyline. Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline, which had nine hits, squandered its own run-scoring chance in the bottom of the fifth inning when the bases were left loaded after a runner interference call on Tamara Grayson’s grounder down the third-base line ended the inning.

Hawks coach John Ritter said the team’s pre-game message focused on defending Skyline’s home field.

“They responded to it and they played well. I’m really proud of them. I can’t say a whole lot more but I’m just glad the way it ended up, especially for the kid it ended up for,” Ritter said in reference to Brown. “Great kid. Great kid. Four-year senior, you know, she’s got something she’ll always remember now.”

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