Dragons edge Central

WOODSTOCK – The signs of improvement continued to show for Central’s baseball team Tuesday night. Unfortunately for the Falcons, they are still waiting for that to translate into a better outcome on the scoreboard.

Central sophomore Gus Wightman tossed a gem against visiting William Monroe while the Falcons out-hit the Green Dragons, but even that wasn’t enough as Monroe took advantage of a pair of key errors while riding a gritty pitching effort from R.J. Payne to a 3-1 Bull Run District win.

“That’s three games in a row we’ve played well enough to win and it’s got away,” said Falcons coach Donn Foltz, whose team has lost nine of its last 11 games. “We’ve just gotta keep plugging at it.”

The Falcons (4-10, 2-6 Bull Run) had their chances against the district leader as Wightman limited William Monroe (11-3, 7-1) to just four hits in his first varsity start to keep his team within striking distance. But Central couldn’t capitalize with runners on and stranded eight in the loss, including six in scoring position.

Trailing 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Central put the tying runs in scoring position with one out after a leadoff walk by pinch-hitter Tyler Cline and a one-out bunt single from leadoff man Tristan Rau. But Payne, who worked out of trouble all evening, tip-toed around danger for the final time by getting Luke Estep to chase a high fastball for strike three before inducing a fly out from Corey Sibert to seal the win.

“I was trying to throw strikes. I got a little tired there in the seventh but luckily my outfielders and my infielders saved me,” said Payne, who finished with 12 strikeouts in the 109-pitch, complete-game effort.

“I heard my coach in the dugout and all my players telling me, ‘Just don’t worry about (the runners), just go at the batter, try to get this batter out.’ That was just my main focus, just going at them, just thinking that (there’s) two outs, nobody on, just get this batter out.”

While Payne worked consistently with runners on, Wightman retired the Dragons in order in three of his six-plus innings pitched. The Central right-hander allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits, a walk, a hit-by-pitch and five strikeouts.

“He’s just deceiving,” Foltz said. “I got behind the (batting screen) one day and was watching him, he’s got a nice motion. It’s hard to pick up. I wanted to give him a shot and he rewarded us well.

“He’s made a major improvement. … I’m really happy for him to get that outing. That’s a shot to us too, to have another quality pitcher.”

Wightman’s solid outing was squandered by a pair of costly throwing errors that directly led to each of William Monroe’s first two runs.

In the top of the third inning, Dragons junior Charlie Richards led off with a single, moved to third on a hit-and-run single by Anthony Pritchett and scored when Pritchett’s steal of second base drew an errant throw.

Pritchett scored to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth inning when he led off with a walk and stole two bases, with the second attempt ending in a wild throw to third that skipped into left field, allowing Pritchett to score with two outs.

“(Wightman) threw one helluva game,” Dragons coach Mike Maynard said. “I think we came through with some stolen bases and tried to play our ball, William Monroe ball. … It was a good win for us and R.J. really stepped up.”

Central’s lone run against Payne came in the bottom of the third inning, when Wightman drew a leadoff walk and scored on Rau’s single up the middle that kicked off the glove of Pritchett as he tried to make a sliding stop behind second base.

The Dragons added an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning on Cody Spencer’s sacrifice fly off Falcons reliever Jared Rice.

“I thought I was about to lose it there for a second but having those bats come through at a good time helped me so much,” said Payne, who allowed six hits and three walks. “Just took a little pressure off my mind, helped everything go a little smoother.”

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