Warren passes Skyline for win

FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s Josh France knew when it counted he had to make the big pitch, and he was able to accomplish it on Thursday night.

The Warren County senior was able to get out of a couple jams on the mound and help the Wildcats to a 9-4 victory over cross-town rival Skyline in Conference 28 baseball action.

“It’s all mental,” France said. “You just got to know in your mind I can do this. Just got to come out here, throw strikes. They’re not going to hit me if I’m throwing what I should throw.”

The Hawks left the bases loaded in both the second and third innings. France held the Hawks to a run in each inning.

The Wildcats took the lead in the top of the second. With two outs, Jacob Dodson singled off Skyline starting pitcher Brett Ritter. The Hawks thought they were out of the inning on an attempted steal by Dodson, but Dodson was called safe.

France followed with a single. Rhett Tierney’s two-run single gave the Wildcats a 2-0 edge.

“Offensively, we had timely hits, and then top to bottom a lot of guys put some good swings on the ball,” Warren County coach Michael Minch said. “One-through-nine, I think we squared up the ball. It was good to see.”

Skyline responded in the bottom of the second with a run. Skyline’s Trenton Little led off with a single off France. With two outs, Brett Ritter singled and Luis Garcia followed with an RBI bloop single to cut the lead to 2-1.

The Hawks (6-7) had a chance to take the lead as Marcus Burke was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but France was able to induce a pop-up from Gavin Kandrick to end the inning.

The Wildcats (9-2) pulled away for good in the top of the third. Robert Rutherford singled and then scored on a three-base error off the bat of Cam Ford. A groundout RBI by Stephen Johnson scored Ford for a 4-1 lead.

Warren County’s Hunter Wines reached base on an infield single. With two outs, Dodson singled and France followed with an RBI single for a 5-1 advantage.

France said being a pitcher helps him at the plate as well.

“You get a good feel for what the ump’s calling,” France said. “Where his strike zone is. What you need to fight off. What you need to put in play. What you need to leave.”

Being a hitter and pitcher in the same game can also have a negative effect. France said that in the second and third innings he was tired after having been on the bases in the top half of each inning.

“I would get up right after I had my at-bats. … Then I was just gassed when I got out there. It was just hard to throw strikes at that point,” France said.

The Hawks cut into the lead in the bottom of the third, and had an opportunity to score even more runs. Skyline’s Aaron Tasker was hit by a pitch from France to start the inning. Tasker was later forced out at second on a ball hit by Matt Hatzell.

Little and Ryan Abel each drew a walk. With two outs and the bases loaded, Ritter cut the lead to 5-2 on an RBI single. However, France got out of the inning by striking out Garcia.

“Another situation where we didn’t drive runners in when we had them in scoring position,” Skyline coach Jay Barnes said. “I think if we do that early the whole scene of the game is different.”

The Wildcats added another run in the top of the fifth to extend the lead to 6-2. A two-run single by Joseph Rutherford stretched the lead to 9-2.

The Hawks scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh on a two-run single by Ryan Abel off Warren County reliever Ford.

France went five innings, allowing just four hits and striking out seven. Skyline’s Ritter pitched five innings and struck out seven.

Skyline has lost three of its last four games, but Barnes said this loss came down to execution.

“We would have liked to have had a better showing,” Barnes said. “We thought this was a pretty important game for us, and we would have liked to have played a little better. I thought we were prepared. We just didn’t execute.”

France, Dodson and Wines each had two hits to lead the Wildcats.

“This is a big win,” France said. “They’re our big rival, and this may be the last time we play them (this season). So that’s a big win for us.”

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