Central softball tops rival Strasburg in extra innings

Strasburg's second baseman Camerin Alsberry puts a tag on Central's Darden Lear as she tries to stretch a hit for an extra base during fifth inning action Wednesday night in Strasburg. Darden was out on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Central High School’s softball team saw its six-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night in a close loss to Madison County. The Falcons needed eight innings, but they got back on track against rival Strasburg on Wednesday evening.

Central blew a four-run cushion in the sixth and seventh innings, reclaimed the lead by scoring a run on a delayed double steal in the eighth and saw Strasburg strand the tying and winning runs in scoring position in the bottom half as the Falcons escaped with a 6-5 Conference 35 victory.

The Falcons (12-8), who wrapped up their regular season with the win, will enter next week’s Conference 35 tournament having won seven of their last eight games.

“We needed it,” Falcons head coach Sue Rubenstein said. “We needed to turn it right back around because we can’t sit and sulk. We’ve got some postseason play that we need to start really focusing on. We’ve got Clarke next Tuesday and we’re really looking forward to dominating that game. That’s really what we wanna do. We wanna start focusing on that. And we needed this. They needed this.”

Central nearly came out on the losing end Wednesday night after taking a 5-1 lead with three runs in the top of the sixth inning, as Strasburg (6-13) rallied for four runs in the sixth and seventh innings to force an extra frame.

Central's Shennan Waldron puts the tag on Strasburg's Emily Reinhardt as Reinhardt tries to get an extra base off a hit during sixth inning action Wednesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

In the bottom of the sixth, Taylor Bowers got a three-run rally started for the Rams when she reached on an error, and a one-out walk to Kaitlyn Capps set up Cortney McDonald’s two-run triple to left that cut the Falcons’ lead to 5-3. Emily Reinhardt followed with an RBI single to cut the deficit to a run, but she was thrown out trying to advance to second after the ball took a bad hop off the chest of Central center fielder Autumn Shelton.

After a 15-minute delay in the action after a tower of lights went dark in right field, two more Central errors in the bottom of the seventh allowed Hannah Alexander – who reached on a one-out walk – to score the tying run, although the Rams had another runner thrown out on a base running miscue at second base for the second out.

The Falcons regained the lead in the eighth after Alex Mantz walked and Olivia Gochenour singled to put runners at the corners with one out, setting up the popular delayed double steal scenario. Gochenour initiated the play when she broke for second, and McDonald, the Rams’ catcher, threw behind Mantz at third. Mantz broke for the plate and was called safe on a close play at home.

“Most of the time we’re pretty successful with that play,” Rubenstein said. “I think they caught us once and that’s pretty good out of six or seven attempts, because it doesn’t always come up when you have less than two outs and runners at first and third. So when it comes we try different things and see what you can do.

“It is (worth the risk) at that point. You see how close the game is and I have got to sometimes force a run, and that’s some of the things we work on to just make them play us.”

Central's Shennan Waldron is greeted at home plate by her teammates after she hit a home run during third inning action Wednesday night against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg put itself in position to win it against starting pitcher Kristina Stead and the Falcons’ defense in the bottom of the eighth, as they put two in scoring position after Capps’ single and Reinhardt’s double to left. But Stead induced a pop out to second and a groundout to short to end the game.

“It’s just frustrating. You shouldn’t even be in that situation, though,” said Rams head coach Suzanne Mathias, referring to Strasburg’s seven errors that led to four unearned runs in the loss. “… I’m tired of giving people runs. We’re better than what we show and it just gets frustrating at times.”

Four of those Strasburg errors came in the top of the sixth that sent three runs across the plate for Central. The Rams also committed an error in the second that eventually allowed the Falcons to tie the game at 1-1 after Strasburg staked a lead on the first of Central’s five errors of the night.

Central gained a 2-1 advantage in the third inning when senior Shennan Waldron, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles, drove a solo shot over the fence in left to lead off the inning.

Stead tossed all eight innings for Central while allowing two earned runs on six hits, four walks and three strikeouts to pick up the win.

Strasburg's Hannah Alexander comes up short of first base as Central's Katie Smoot makes the out after Alexander put down a bunt during fifth inning action Wednesday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Stead’s counterpart, Strasburg sophomore Madi Foltz, also pitched the full eight innings for the Rams, surrendering two earned runs on six hits, one walk and four strikeouts. Foltz also had two hits and scored a run.

Central is off until next Tuesday’s Conference 35 semifinal matchup at No. 2 Clarke County, while Strasburg plays at Rappahannock County in its regular season finale today. The Rams will be the fourth seed in the Conference 35 tournament and host No. 5 George Mason in the play-in game Monday.

“We have to focus and finish the plays,” Mathias said.

“Those things are killing us and it’s things that I’ve preached for how many months now. I just wish it would all sink in for the tournament and we just play. Because they’re talented. I’ve got talent and they’ve shown they can hit the best pitchers and they can play with the Clarkes and they can play a couple innings with Madison.”

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

Strasburg catcher Cortney McDonald prepares to put a tag on Central's Alexandra Mantz as she runs to home plate during second inning action Wednesday night in Strasburg. Alexandra beat the throw and scored on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Madi Foltz fires a pitch during Wednesday night's game against Central. Rich Cooley/Daily

Central's Kristina Stead fires a pitch during last night's game against Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily