Hawks upset rival Wildcats
FRONT ROYAL – Time and time again, Warren County’s baseball team put men on base in Friday night’s Conference 28 tournament quarterfinal game. Skyline starting pitcher Brett Ritter said, “At times, it got scary.”
But every time the Wildcats got a runner on – which happened in each of the seven innings of the playoff matchup – Skyline found a way to wiggle out of trouble.
Ritter and teammate Dillon Sisk combined to limit Warren County to just three hits and, most importantly, found ways to keep zeroes on the scoreboard as the sixth-seeded Hawks upset the No. 3 Wildcats in a 1-0 win at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The win was the first for Skyline (9-10) over their cross-town rivals since beating the Wildcats in the conference quarterfinals in 2014 – a span of four games – and sends the Hawks into a road meeting with No. 2 Brentsville on Tuesday in the Conference 28 semifinals with a Region 3A East berth on the line.
“It’s huge,” Hawks head coach Jay Barnes said of his team’s third straight win. “We played a complete baseball game and we kind of knew that’s what it’s gonna take against them. They’ve been playing really good baseball all year. We got good innings out of Brett Ritter and good innings out of Dillon Sisk right there at the end.”
In what Barnes called a pair of “gritty” pitching performances, Ritter and Sisk combined to strand 11 Warren County baserunners over seven innings. In five of those frames, the leadoff man reached base for the Wildcats (15-5).
The right-handed Ritter, who allowed two hits and four walks and hit two batters while striking out seven, worked out of two bases-loaded jams in his five innings of work en route to picking up his second win of the season. The junior said he struggled locating his fastball but was effective with breaking balls, as the Wildcats failed to consistently square up balls for solid contact at the plate.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and let my defense back me up,” Ritter said. “And they did a good job. They did a helluva good job today.”
Sisk, a sophomore left-hander who has settled into a late-inning role for the Hawks, entered the game to start the sixth and tossed a pair of scoreless frames to seal the victory. Sisk allowed the leadoff man to reach base in both innings – he hit the first batter he faced in the sixth – but stranded both while picking up three strikeouts for his first save.
“It was definitely frustrating the first inning – just concentrating on throwing strikes, hitting my spots,” Sisk said. “But all I could think about was just coming out with the W, just doing what I’m supposed to. I know my team’s got my back and they’ll back me up at all times.”
After failing to cash in on numerous chances through the first six innings, Warren County opened the bottom of the seventh with a leadoff single by senior Robert Rutherford. Cam Ford then tried to bunt him over, but his attempt with two strikes was ruled to have just trickled foul before it was scooped up by Skyline third baseman Matt Hartzell, forcing Ford out and drawing a heated argument between Wildcats head coach Michael Minch and the home plate umpire.
Stephen Johnson was called out in the next at-bat for interfering with a throw to second on Rutherford’s stolen base, again drawing the ire of Minch.
“I don’t think they were necessarily the right calls at the right time, but we can’t look at that. We had plenty of opportunities during that game to capitalize on some mistakes and get some runs,” Minch said. “Unfortunately we didn’t do it. So that doesn’t surprise that plays like that happen there at the end because we had plenty of opportunities there during the game to come up big and get a big hit, and we just didn’t do it. And against a good team, a well-coached team, you’ve gotta take advantage of those opportunities for sure.”
Sisk then notched his third strikeout to end the game.
“I think both Dillon and Brett showed a lot of grit right there, especially Dillon there in the seventh,” Barnes said. “There was a lot of stuff going on, things that can break your focus, and he was able to stay through it all.”
Skyline’s resiliency spoiled a stellar final high school start for Warren County senior left-hander Joseph Rutherford, who scattered four hits and a walk while striking out eight in a complete-game effort. He also had a single and reached base three times.
The game’s lone run came in the third inning, when Hawks No. 8 hitter Dylan Hamman jumped on a first-pitch fastball and doubled to left. He moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Joey Hugo and scored on a wild pitch.
“That’s kind of been our approach with (Joseph Rutherford) and Dylan, knowing he was a little further down the lineup, he kind of knew he was gonna see some fastballs early so he was ready to go,” Barnes said. “That was big-time.”
Marcus Burke, Gavin Kandrick and Joey Pingley each had singles for Skyline, while Warren County’s first hit didn’t come until Jacob Dodson’s looping single to left-center with two outs in the fourth inning.
“I think our approach was not very good at times,” Minch said. “Thinking a little bit too much at the plate instead of just reacting, seeing the ball and reacting. You know, again, win or go home, I think a lot of pressure was on the kids, but that wasn’t the same Warren County Wildcat baseball team that’s been here all year long. So as a coach I’m gonna have to look back, see what we can do different as a coaching staff to get our guys ready to play.
“Hats off to Skyline, man. They had a game plan and executed and came out here and got it done.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org