Grayson shuts down Falcons as Hawks snap two-game slide

Skyline's Emma Benson tags out Central's Chloee Burton on this second base steal attempt during third inning softball action Monday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – It took Skyline High School’s softball team 15 innings to score a run in a victory over Central in the season opener for both squads back on March 20. The Hawks didn’t need nearly as much time to push a run across the plate in the rematch at home Monday evening.

The Hawks mustered just enough offense to scrape across a run in the bottom of the first inning and starting pitcher Tamara Grayson and the Skyline defense did the rest in a 1-0 non-conference win over the Falcons.

The victory snapped a two-game losing streak for Skyline.

“It was important because we went into 15 innings last game and right before we played we said we can’t go 15 more, we have to go to seven and we can do this,” said Grayson, who ran her scoreless innings streak against Central to 22 straight. “I think this was one of our big wins because we went so long in the other game and to come back and win this one, I think it was good for us.”

Skyline’s offensive performance left head coach John Ritter still wanting to see a little more production – the Hawks (6-2) mustered only five hits against Falcons’ (4-4) starting pitcher Olivia Gochenour and have scored just six runs over their last three ballgames – but Grayson didn’t need much run support against a Central offense also trying to find consistency at the plate.

Central's Shennan Waldron tags out Skyline's Alana Smith on this second base steal attempt Monday night during third inning action in Front Royal. Smith was out on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Skyline junior right-hander limited the Falcons to four hits and no walks over her seven shutout innings while striking out five. Grayson, who said she primarily relied on her curveball and screwball, retired the last nine batters she faced Monday night.

Falcons first-year coach Sue Rubenstein, whose team played without starting pitcher and leading hitter Kristina Stead on Monday, said Central’s struggles at the plate can be traced back to the hitters failing to adjust their swings as the in-game scenario evolves.

“We’ve got three areas of the ballgame and right now two areas are super strong and our hitting in a row is just not together yet,” said Rubenstein, whose team has been held to one run or fewer four times in eight games this spring. “We’re still getting that lineup (set). … Once they open up there’s no stopping them. They all have the potential to do it but that’s been our biggest downfall right now is putting hits in a row.”

Grayson scattered Central’s four hits – all singles – over four different innings. The Falcons got leadoff singles from Autumn Shelton and Darden Lear in the fourth and fifth innings, respectively, but left runners stranded at second both times.

The Hawks backed their starting pitcher, who induced nine groundouts, with error-free defense. Hawks third baseman Valarie Martin snagged a hard line drive off the bat of Alex Mantz to strand a Central runner in the top of the first, and catcher Rachel Sirbaugh threw out a runner trying to steal second to end the third. In the fifth, Skyline freshman shortstop Emma Benson made a nice backhanded stop in the hole before firing across the diamond to end the frame.

Central's first baseman Darden Lear stretches to make the catch to force out Skyline's Rachel Sirbaugh during sixth inning softball action Monday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I knew going into the year defensively we would still be a good team because we only had to replace one (defender). We’ve just gotta figure it out at the plate,” Ritter said.

“I mean we’ve had a couple games with a couple errors but defensively I think we’ve played as well as anybody all year.”

Skyline scored the game’s lone run in the bottom of the first inning, which began with Benson’s leadoff single on a soft line drive into left field. She moved to second on a steal – making a nice slide around the tag to reach the base safely – and to third on a groundout before scoring on Natasha Grayson’s RBI infield single with two outs.

The Hawks mustered little else against Gochenour. They stranded two runners in the third after singles from Alana Smith and Jessica Sims and left another in scoring position in the fifth after Abegail Lee’s two-out single.

“I don’t know if it’s as much our approach as kind of seeing the ball, seeing it from (the pitcher’s) hand,” Ritter said of Skyline’s offensive struggles. “(Gochenour) threw a lot of first-pitch changeups that we swung at. You’ve gotta see it.”

Skyline's Tamara Grayson fires a pitch during early inning action against Central Monday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Gochenour, a junior, was charged with an earned run on five hits, a walk and three strikeouts over six innings in the losing effort.

“I think she really adapted to the strike zone,” Rubenstein said of Gochenour. “(The umpire) liked them in and low and that’s not the kind of pitcher she is, so I thought she adapted beautifully to that. I don’t think I would’ve done anything different for her. I’m proud of her performance tonight.”

Shennan Waldron and Chloee Burton each had singles for the Falcons, who return to Front Royal Thursday evening to take on Warren County.

Skyline returns to action Tuesday night at home against Handley.

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