Mistakes cost Falcons in loss to Madison County

WOODSTOCK – Central junior Autumn Shelton admitted shortly after Tuesday’s loss to visiting Madison County that the Falcons’ softball team felt a little like they had just given a game away.

In a key midseason matchup between two of the top teams in the Bull Run District and Conference 35, Central overcame a poor start at the plate to take the lead over the Mountaineers in the fourth inning, only to give the advantage right back in the fifth on a pair of crucial errors as Madison County hung on for a 4-2 win.

“We just have to be mindful. Every single pitch you have to know what’s going on,” said Falcons coach Lisa Rhodes, whose team dropped to 10-2 overall, 4-2 in district play and, most importantly, 1-2 in Conference 35 action. “You can’t take any pitch for granted. With a team like this you have to be ready every single pitch. You can’t be caught off guard.”

Madison County (9-3, 6-0 BRD, 4-0 C35), which had mustered a lone run against Falcons starting pitcher Bekah Ansbro through the first four innings, entered the top of the fifth inning needing a spark after seeing Central take a 2-1 lead with a pair of runs in the previous half-inning. So Mountaineers coach Jesse Yowell decided Madison would start bunting.

Kara Price led off the fifth with a single to right, and freshman Emillee Russell popped up a bunt that fell just out of reach of Central third baseman Mariyah Viar for a hit. The play was compounded by a Falcons throwing error that allowed Price to score all the way from first base to tie the game.

Two batters later, Mariann Smith dropped down another bunt that ended in a throwing error, allowing Russell to cross the plate for the go-ahead run.

“I feel like it maybe dropped our confidence level a little bit,” Shelton said of the fifth inning. “Maybe some of us felt too – I don’t wanna say too confident, but we should’ve kept coming out with our all that we had in the previous inning. We should have the same amount of effort for offense and defense.”

Central’s defensive collapse came just minutes after the Falcons seemed to seize some valuable momentum with two runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Shelton led off the frame with a line-drive single to left field and moved to second on Kristina Stead’s sacrifice bunt. Ansbro then faked a bunt to draw Madison County’s third baseman away from the bag, allowing Shelton to swipe third base. Shelton’s steal attempt drew a throw that skipped into left field and she scampered home to tie the game at 1-1.

Ansbro followed with a home run to center field on a high fly ball that glanced off the top of Jeana Kelliher’s glove and over the fence, giving the Falcons a 2-1 lead.

“Honestly my confidence level boosted,” said Shelton, who celebrated her 17th birthday with two of Central’s four hits, a stolen base and a run scored. “I was like OK we have this game, we can roll right through this if we keep up our intensity and our confidence level and we keep doing what we do. We play Central softball and we can roll through this. But it’s just not what happened.”

Madison County added an insurance run in the top of the sixth inning as Central’s decision to intentionally walk senior Samantha Breeden – who had lined an RBI single into right in the first inning – to lead off the frame backfired. Megan Shifflett immediately followed with an RBI double to put the Mountaineers up 4-2.

“That was a big at-bat, because they weren’t expecting that,” Yowell said. “They were expecting us to bunt, which we did try the first time and it was like well, let’s try something different then. And Megan can hit. She’s in the number five spot for a reason.”

The Falcons had their chances to cut into Madison County’s lead, as they put the leadoff batter on base in each of the final two innings but failed to score. In the sixth inning, Central junior Shennan Waldron led off with a walk but was thrown out at third trying to grab two bases on Shelton’s sacrifice bunt.

Rhodes said the play was a case of the Mountaineers playing “heads-up softball,” as freshman Logyn Estes hustled to third base after charging the bunt to meet the throw across the diamond from Price to complete the double play.

“Being aggressive usually pays off but every now and then it bites you in the behind,” said Rhodes.

“It’s do or die, really, that late in the game. You’ve gotta give it a shot. I don’t regret it.”

Estes and Shifflett combined to limit the Falcons to just four hits. Estes allowed two earned runs on three hits and five strikeouts over four innings, while Shifflett tossed the final three frames and allowed one hit and a walk while striking out four.

Ansbro, who had two hits at the plate, pitched all seven innings for Central and allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits, a walk and 12 strikeouts.

“I hope this is motivating,” Rhodes said. “I hope that the way things went tonight lights a fire and helps us speed up a little bit and push through.”

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