Falcons rebound to defeat Eagles

BERRYVILLE – Central High School’s softball team took a tough loss last Friday against Madison County with the top seed in the Conference 35 tournament on the line. The Falcons bounced back in the conference semifinals at Clarke County on Tuesday evening.

The third-seeded Falcons backed starting pitcher Bekah Ansbro with early run support and solid defense, and the senior limited No. 2 Clarke County to just three hits as Central blanked the Eagles for a 4-0 victory.

The win secured the Falcons a spot in next week’s Region 2A East tournament and sends them into Thursday’s Conference 35 championship game against an opponent yet to be determined.

“It was a big confidence booster,” Central junior shortstop Shennan Waldron said. “It felt really good to win this one.”

Central (18-3), which split a pair of regular season meetings with the Eagles (10-10), wasted little time sending the game’s first run across the plate in the top of the first inning.

Waldron led off the game by shooting the first pitch from Clarke County sophomore Megan Hicks through the hole into left for a single before moving to third on a sacrifice bunt by Autumn Shelton and a wild pitch. With two outs, freshman Alex Mantz scorched a line drive RBI single into left to plate Waldron for a 1-0 lead.

“Our first innings are probably the most important because a lot of times we get down in the last couple ones and our hitting isn’t as great, so it’s always important to get a good hit in the first,” said Waldron, who had two of the Falcons’ seven hits (all singles) and an RBI.

Central added two more runs in the second inning, a spurt aided by four Clarke County errors in the frame. Juniors Erika Thorpe (2-for-4) and Lexi Rau – the Nos. 7 and 8 hitters, respectively – each reached on a throwing error to lead off the inning before Thorpe scored on a delayed double steal. One out later, Waldron lifted a fly ball into right-center that fell safely as two Eagles outfielders collided, allowing Rau to score for a 3-0 lead.

“Pressure on the defense worked,” Falcons coach Lisa Rhodes said. “Putting the ball in play early and putting pressure on the defense is what won us this game. I mean, we had defense and we had pitching too, but scoring those runs the way we did and putting pressure on the defense was a big part.”

The Falcons nearly added a couple more runs to that lead in the second but Clarke County left fielder Jade Feltner made a spectacular diving grab on Ansbro’s liner into the left-center field gap to end the half-inning.

“I was halfway down the line and I looked up to see where the ball was to see if I could get two or three (bases) and she just laid out for that one,” said Ansbro, who reached base three times on a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch. “I wasn’t even mad about that one. That was a great catch on her part.”

As it turned out, Ansbro wouldn’t need those extra runs (although the Falcons would add another for good measure in the fourth when Gwyneth George scored on a passed ball). The senior right-hander allowed a hit in each of the first three innings while stranding four Clarke County baserunners during that span, then proceeded to retire the final 15 batters she faced.

Ansbro finished with nine strikeouts and didn’t walk a batter.

“The first few innings (the umpire) wasn’t giving her her lower pitches, and so I told her just adjust, find your zone, find your spot,” Rhodes said. “The last few innings she had it.”

The Falcons also backed their starting pitcher with some solid defense, as Ansbro’s misfire on a bunt attempt in the second inning led to Central’s lone error. Ansbro began her string of 15 straight outs by snagging a line drive that shot back up the middle off the bat of Kendall Benoit in the bottom of the third, and Waldron made a diving catch on a ball that looped over the head of Mantz at third base to end the fifth.

“I think there was a lot of camaraderie between us,” Ansbro said. “We all knew what was on the line and we really wanna keep going as long as we can, so (we were) just keeping it together as a team. We had a lot of energy in the dugout and I think that was really the key to the game.”

Shelton and Kristina Stead had singles for the Falcons.

Hicks pitched four innings for Clarke County and was tagged for four runs (two earned) on five hits, three walks and a strikeout. Feltner tossed the final three innings while surrendering two hits and a hit-by-pitch.

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