Warriors strike early, hang on for win over Hawks
STEPHENS CITY – Skyline High School’s softball team entered Thursday’s road matchup against Sherando allowing less than two runs per game through its first five contests. The Warriors needed just two batters to raise that average.
Sherando struck for three runs in the bottom of the first inning to snag an early lead, then survived a handful of errors to hold off the Hawks for a 6-3 victory in Northwestern District action on a chilly night at Sherando Park.
It was the first loss of the season for Skyline (5-1, 0-1 Northwestern), while the Warriors improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in the district.
“We’ve been making a habit of playing from behind the last few games,” Sherando head coach Clarence Smith said, “so it was nice to get out ahead a little bit. Our defense is still trying to work around some things. We keep giving up some runs that are unearned and allowing teams to get in the game. Puts a little bit more pressure on our young pitching. But in the meantime our offense has really been the staple of our team this year and they continue to produce. We’ll try to ride them as long as we can and hope we catch up with our defense and pitching.”
That offense, which is averaging 9.1 runs per game, pulled Sherando from an early 1-0 deficit in the bottom of the first inning.
Freshman leadoff batter Blake Conner got the rally started when she floated a single into left-center on an 0-2 pitch from Skyline junior Tamara Grayson. Three pitches later junior Tori Seymour launched a two-run home run to left that easily cleared the bright green cones that marked the 200-foot home run line on the Warriors’ home field.
“She’s a very good pitcher and I was just looking for something I could handle and hit right back up the middle. I was lucky enough to get a hold of it,” said Seymour, who now has two home runs this spring.
“That just gave us a little ‘umph’ to keep us going during the game.”
Freshman Lauren Smith, who starting in the pitching circle for Sherando, helped her own cause later in the bottom of the first when she singled to center to drive in Korenn Paige, who doubled immediately following Seymour’s homer.
Lauren Smith, who had four RBIs in the win, delivered another RBI single in the third and drove in two more in the fifth with a double on a hard ground ball that took a high hop off the chest of Hawks third baseman Valarie Martin. The latter gave Sherando a 6-2 lead.
“At first they were really pitching outside so I kind of had to go with it even though outside pitches aren’t even my favorite,” said Smith, who joined teammate Sarah Marshall (double, two runs scored) in going 3-for-3 in the win. “It’s kind of rough sometimes but I went that way but it ended up well. The last at-bat she ended up throwing an inside pitch and I kind of jammed myself a little bit but it was OK.”
The freshman also pitched five-plus innings in the circle and limited Skyline to five hits and a walk while striking out two. All three of the runs allowed by Smith were unearned.
“Lauren made the team as a freshman and she’s sort of unheralded,” Clarence Smith said. “A lot of these other girls have reputations that came in from major travel teams and Lauren’s just one those girls, she’s kind of small in stature and she doesn’t care about any of that. She will out work or work as hard as anyone. She doesn’t want anyone to tell her that she doesn’t belong out here.”
Lauren Smith got a mixed bag of support from her defense, which committed six errors in the win but also turned three doubles plays and helped force the Hawks to strand nine total base runners, including eight in scoring position.
Skyline capitalized on a pair of Warrior errors early, including one on Natasha Grayson’s line drive to left with two outs in the top of the first that allowed Jessica Sims (2-for-3, walk) to score.
Back-to-back singles by Alexis Grim and Abegail Lee (2-for-3) preceded Sherando’s second error of the night in the second inning, the miscue coming on Alana Smith’s two-out grounder. The error allowed Grim to score, pulling the Hawks within 3-2.
But Skyline, which got an RBI single from Alana Smith in the top of the sixth after two more Sherando errors, also failed to take advantage of run-scoring opportunities on several occasions. The Hawks had a runner cut down at the plate on a 6-3-2 double play in the fourth and stranded four runners in scoring position over the final two innings.
Hawks head coach John Ritter said his team struggled to make adjustments at the plate in the loss, particularly when Lauren Smith was in the circle.
“That’s tough when you do that,” Ritter said. “We were a little flat tonight. I thought we weren’t as sharp as we’ve been the last couple games. But that happens. But you know what, they’re a pretty resilient group so we’ll see what happens next week.”
River Baird pitched the final two innings for Sherando and allowed three hits.
Tamara Grayson went six innings for Skyline and allowed six runs (five earned) on 10 hits, two walks and three strikeouts.
“I know Sherando’s a good team and I like playing teams like that because it’s better for us that the girls see this quality of pitching, this quality of hitting and everything because our conference has a lot of good teams in it,” Ritter said.
“I feel that I have to, as their coach, I have to have them prepared and ready for all that, so I like the competition.”
Sherando is scheduled to travel to Central for a doubleheader Saturday, while Skyline returns to action next Monday at home against Brentsville in a Conference 28 matchup.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org