Falcons softball bounces back with win over Hawks

WOODSTOCK – Coming off Central’s first loss of the season last Friday night, Falcons softball coach Lisa Rhodes crossed her fingers and hoped her team would show up ready to play in Monday’s home game against Skyline.

Shortly after the Falcons squeezed out yet another close win against the Hawks, Rhodes said, “I’m just glad we’re back.”

Central returned to form against Skyline, as the Falcons’ offense manufactured a pair of runs while sophomore Kristina Stead and senior Bekah Ansbro combined to shut out the Hawks en route to a 2-0 non-conference victory.

“It was very important and it made our coach happy,” Central freshman Alex Mantz said of the Falcons’ bounce-back victory, which came just three days after a 5-2 loss at Clarke County. “She recognized the team (by) how we played tonight.

“We were much stronger mentally,” she added. “… We knew that this was a team that we play our best (against) and we definitely did that again.”

In keeping with the theme common to the recent Central-Skyline softball rivalry – the Falcons have won the last five meetings with the Hawks, all by two runs or less – Monday’s matchup featured little offense. Central tallied seven hits off Skyline starting pitcher Tamara Grayson, while the Hawks mustered just four hits in their third straight loss.

The Falcons (8-1) scratched across what would turn out to be the decisive run in the second inning, when Mantz poked a leadoff single into right field, stole second and scored on a one-out single up the middle by sophomore Darden Lear.

“We had more voice tonight, I guess,” said Mantz, who went 2-for-3 in the win. “We were cheering each other on. Our last game against Clarke we were kind of quiet and weren’t prepared. We were better prepared (tonight). We worked on our hitting over the weekend without coach, so it was like a team get-together thing.”

Grayson kept Central’s offense in check until the bottom of the fifth, which began with a leadoff single by Lexi Rau followed by a pair of key at-bats from the bottom of the Falcons’ batting order. Autumn Shelton singled on a sharp groundball up the middle to conclude an eight-pitch at-bat, and Kylie Stottlemyer battled through a 10-pitch plate appearance before reaching on a Skyline (3-5) error that loaded the bases with no outs.

“That’s a big deal to get (Grayson) to work like that and load the bases and put pressure on the defense,” Rhodes said.

Grayson induced a pop out from Falcons leadoff hitter Shennan Waldron (1-for-3) for the inning’s first out, but junior Erika Thorpe plated a run on an RBI groundout before Skyline escaped further damage in the frame.

“The one thing that (assistant coach Mike Hunt) said to them when we were out in left field (after the game) is that good softball, it’s one hit (that) makes the difference,” Rhodes said. “And manufacturing that run at third on that groundball to first base was a big deal.”

Skyline had its chances to generate some runs early but left six runners on base in the second, third and fourth innings.

The Hawks found some success against Stead in the top of the third, as Valarie Martin and leadoff batter Rachel Sirbaugh hit back-to-back singles with one out. Rhodes, who said the goal was for Stead to make one round through Skyline’s batting order, then turned to the veteran Ansbro, who sandwiched a Falcons error with a pair of strikeouts to leave the bases loaded.

In the fourth inning, Jessica Sims led off with a walk and Tori Jo Brown – who had two of the Hawks’ four hits, including a two-out double in the second inning – followed with a single, but a botched sacrifice bunt attempt preceded three consecutive strikeouts for Ansbro.

“We had a couple situations there that we didn’t capitalize on,” said Skyline coach John Ritter, whose team has scored just one run over the last three games. “… The fourth inning was a good one, two on with no outs and I can’t get a bunt down. So that hurts. That hurts. But it’s all good. We’ll just regroup and see what happens.”

Ansbro, who retired the final 12 batters she faced, allowed just one hit and a walk while striking out 10 batters in 4 2/3 innings pitched, while Stead surrendered three hits with a strikeout in 2 1/3 innings.

Grayson pitched all six innings for Skyline and allowed one earned run on seven hits and four walks. The sophomore didn’t issue any walks.

“Night after night she gets up there and just throws her butt off, man,” Ritter said. “She’s one of those kids that at the end of the night you ain’t gotta ask if she gave it her all. You know she did and I don’t have no problems with that. She’s pitching well now, hitting her spots and defensively we’ve gotta make plays behind her. A couple times we didn’t.”

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