Rutherford fires gem as Wildcats blank Falcons

WOODSTOCK – Warren County baseball coach Michael Minch said Wildcats top arm Joseph Rutherford was due for a good outing, and the senior left-hander looked every part the ace on Tuesday night against Central.

Rutherford locked down a struggling Falcons offense, limiting Central to just two hits while striking out 11 in a complete-game effort as Warren County cruised to a 5-0 Bull Run District victory to snap a two-game slide.

The Wildcats (13-4, 7-4 Bull Run) played as the home team on Central’s (5-11, 3-7) field Tuesday after poor field conditions at Bing Crosby Stadium prompted a move in the game’s location.

“I felt really good. I was able to throw all three (pitches) today, which I can’t say I’ve been able to do every game,” said Rutherford, who improved to 5-2 on the mound while bouncing back from a loss against Strasburg last week. “And I threw all three for strikes. I don’t think we had an error out here. Our defense played really good. It was nice we got that two-run lead in the first. It’s always nice pitching with a lead.”

Warren County’s early 2-0 lead allowed Rutherford to aggressively attack the strike zone with his fastball, curveball and changeup. The lefty didn’t allow a walk and pitched into a three-ball count just once in the entire game, which came in the seventh inning. Rutherford, backed by flawless defense, needed just 85 pitches to complete his outing despite his 11 strikeouts.

“His changeup was great tonight,” Minch said. “First time he’s had that all year really, where he could throw it in any count.”

Central’s first hit off Rutherford came in the top of the second inning, when sophomore Luke Estep singled on a soft line drive to center with one out before being stranded at second base.

Rutherford then retired 12 straight batters before freshman John French jumped on a first-pitch fastball with one out in the sixth and doubled to left field. French was left at third.

Tuesday marked the second time Central has been shut out by the Wildcats this year, as the Falcons mustered just two hits against Warren County senior Josh France in their first meeting back on April 15.

“It’ll come. I mean I saw some adjustments tonight that were good,” Falcons coach Donn Foltz said of his team’s struggling offense. “French got that good hit, he’s been working hard. Just gotta keep working, keep plugging away. That’s the greatest thing about baseball, when you least expect it, it happens. And it can go the other way too.”

Warren County jumped out to a quick lead with a pair of runs off Falcons starting pitcher Hank Hoover in the bottom of the first inning. Cam Ford drove home Rutherford with a one-out RBI single to left, and senior Stephen Johnson floated a looping two-out single into left-center for the first of his two RBIs.

Hoover danced around trouble in the second and stranded two Wildcats in scoring position, beginning a string of seven straight batters retired before he hit more trouble in the fifth inning. The senior left-hander lasted 4 1/3 innings and was charged with four runs (three earned) on four hits, three walks, a hit batter and six strikeouts.

Five of Hoover’s strikeouts ended with a curveball.

“That might be one of the better games he’s thrown,” Foltz said.

“That’s probably the best and most consistent I’ve seen his curveball, so I was glad he got a good outing. Just gotta get the sticks going.”

Warren County loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning before Hunter Wines worked a four-pitch walk against Falcons reliever Gus Wightman to give the Wildcats a 3-0 lead.

Johnson’s sacrifice fly plated another for a four-run cushion before Falcons center fielder Tristan Rau ended the fifth by throwing a laser to nab Ford at home as he tried to score on James Bussell’s single.

“I don’t think we had a lot of hits tonight but it seems like when we got runners we were able to get them in,” said Rutherford, who reached base three times on a pair of infield singles and a hit-by-pitch, scored twice and drove in one. “You know, in those middle innings (Hoover) was throwing a good curveball and we didn’t make the adjustment until (the fifth inning), but then we were able to get a couple more and get him out of there.”

The Wildcats added an insurance run in the sixth inning when France led off with a single and scored on Rutherford’s sacrifice fly.

Warren County finished the game with six hits, all singles.

“We just needed to get out and play,” Minch said. “We’ve had two tough losses in a row, really just got outplayed in all aspects, but it’s good to get back out here and get back on the winning side, get back to playing Wildcat baseball. The kids enjoyed it. The kids needed it.”

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