Tigers’ four-run sixth hands Hawks second straight softball loss

FRONT ROYAL – Skyline High School’s softball team had little margin for error facing a future NCAA Division I pitcher in Brentsville’s Leah Shipp Monday evening. One poor half-inning did the Hawks in.

The visiting Tigers broke open a tie game with four runs in the top of the sixth inning, an output that was plenty for Shipp as the Michigan State-bound senior limited Skyline to just four hits in a 5-2 Conference 28 victory.

“Bad inning. That’s what killed us. Bad inning,” said Hawks head coach John Ritter, whose team has lost two straight. “They’re a good team. For the last three games every one of them but one’s been close. We’ve gotta learn how to get through it. It’s good for the girls. They need to see this. We play them in a couple weeks again, so they need to use that to their advantage.”

Skyline (5-2, 3-1 Conference 28) lost an early 1-0 lead on Jordan Bates’ solo home run to right-center in the fourth inning, then watched as the Tigers took control two frames later.

Brentsville (3-3, 3-1), which had mustered just three hits off Hawks starting pitcher Tamara Grayson through the first five innings, found an opening against Skyline’s junior right-hander in the sixth in the form of four walks.

Grayson, pitching through a driving rain in the top of the sixth, nearly worked around trouble in the inning after Skyline catcher Rachel Sirbaugh caught a runner stealing to erase a leadoff walk before Grayson picked up her sixth strikeout after giving up a one-out single. But back-to-back walks loaded the bases for the top of Brentsville’s order, and a third straight walk to MacKenzie Ringer plated the Tigers’ go-ahead run.

“I thought she pitched a great game up ’til then,” Ritter said of Grayson, who tossed all seven innings for the Hawks, allowed five earned runs on seven hits, seven walks and eight strikeouts and worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the first inning. “We just struggled getting the pitches in and it happens sometimes.”

Brentsville built its lead to 5-1 in the sixth with Riley McCarthy’s RBI single to right and a two-run single from Shipp, the latter of which ended with McCarthy being thrown out at third for the final out of the inning.

“They helped us out but we were patient with their pitcher,” Tigers head coach Ted Lyons said.

“I think we started out, we had a hit here or there but the girls have been playing hard this year, working hard. We had that one little error. That’s where we’ve lost two games now by one run, 1-0 each time, and it was an error that started it off. But we’ve been able to regroup.”

It was the first of Brentsville’s two errors in the game that helped put Skyline on the board in the bottom of the first inning, an overthrow to first on Emma Benson’s grounder that allowed the freshman to scamper all the way around to third base to lead off the inning. Benson scored on Jessica Sims’ ground out on a bunt back to the pitcher for a quick 1-0 lead.

After falling behind in the top of the sixth, the Hawks got a run back in the bottom of the inning when Sims tripled on a fly ball down the right field line with one out and scored on Natasha Grayson’s RBI double to left-center.

That would be the last of the damage Skyline mustered against Shipp, however, as the senior retired the side in order in the seventh to seal the Tigers’ win. Shipp, who had two singles at the plate to lead Brentsville’s offense, was charged with just one earned run on four hits while striking out seven in the circle.

Three of Skyline’s four hits went for extra bases, as Valarie Martin doubled in the fifth with two outs but was left stranded in scoring position. Abegail Lee had an infield single with two outs in the second inning for Skyline.

“This is where we find out who we are,” said Ritter, whose team opened the season 5-0 before suffering consecutive losses. “The whole schedule’s been tough. Now you’re seeing good pitching and stuff so they’ve gotta adapt to it and make adjustments and everything. You’ve gotta finish the game like you started the game.”

Skyline returns to action Thursday in a road game against cross-town rival Warren County.

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