Sirbaugh’s walk-off caps Hawks’ wild win over Dragons in C28 semifinals

Skyline shortstop Emma Benson waits for a throw to pick off William Monroe's Alexis Wayland after Wayland was caught in a rundown between third and home plate during third inning action Wednesday evening in Front Royal. The throw went past Benson and Wayland was safe at third base. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – A three-run deficit after two innings of action could’ve buried Skyline High School’s softball team in the Conference 28 tournament semifinals against visiting William Monroe on Wednesday afternoon. So too could’ve Alexis Wayland’s go-ahead home run for the visiting Dragons in the top of the seventh inning. Neither knocked out the top-seeded Hawks.

Shortly after Wayland’s homer erased the heroics of Skyline’s Alana Smith – who hit her own go-ahead, two-run shot in the bottom of the sixth inning – Hawks sophomore catcher Rachel Sirbaugh delivered a walk-off single to send Skyline to a wild 6-5 victory.

The win sends Skyline into Thursday’s Conference 28 championship game at home against No. 2 Riverside and books the Hawks a spot in next week’s Region 3A East tournament for the second straight season.

“We just had to capitalize for our team,” Sirbaugh said moments after hitting the game-winning two-run single, her second hit of the afternoon. “I mean we’ve been working so hard for this and we knew it was gonna come down to the wire because they’re such a good team.

“You just have to come up big in big moments, and we did.”

Skyline's Kaley Mahoney, left, and Jessica Sims, right, celebrate after the pair scored in the seventh inning off a hit by Rachel Sirbaugh to beat William Monroe 6-5 Wednesday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

Skyline (18-4), trailing the No. 4 Dragons 5-4 entering the bottom of the seventh inning, immediately got things rolling when senior Jessica Sims floated a leadoff single into center field. Junior Tamara Grayson, the Hawks’ starting pitcher, put the tying and winning runs in scoring position with no outs when she followed with a double to left.

Sirbaugh brought both runners home on the next pitch from Monroe reliever Lexi Lam when Sirbaugh yanked a sharp grounder down the third-base line that skipped into left, sending the Hawks streaming from the third-base dugout to form a mob near home plate after courtesy runner Kaley Mahoney crossed the plate for the winning run.

“I think we’re all full of determination and dedication,” said Sims, who was 3-for-4 with an RBI and two runs scored in the win. “None of us ever had the feeling like we were giving up. We just knew we needed to come in and really kick it in gear and start going.

“It was nerve-wracking, especially being a senior knowing this could be my last game,” continued Sims, the Hawks’ lone senior. “I think everyone really knew this could really be it and we have the ability to go really far. We knew we needed to let our emotions go … stay humble and just know that we need to come back and come out on top.”

The last two innings were a seesaw of emotions for Skyline, which chipped away at Monroe’s early 3-0 lead with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings before Smith hit her first career home run to give the Hawks their first lead of the game.

Skyline's Alana Smith and head coach John Ritter exchange high five's after Smith hit a two run homer during the sixth inning Wednesday evening against William Monroe. Rich Cooley/Daily

After junior Natasha Grayson drew a four-pitch walk to lead off the bottom of the sixth against Dragons starter Hailie Lamb, Smith – the Hawks’ No. 9 hitter – stepped into the box with two outs and lined a 1-1 pitch over the fence in left center to give Skyline a 4-3 advantage.

“All I thought was we needed to score,” said Smith, who had two of Skyline’s 11 hits. “I mean I honestly didn’t think it was going out, but it did feel really good. I just decided that I needed to get on and home was good.”

Wayland pulled the momentum back to the Dragons in the top of the seventh when, after Lacey Beale singled with one out, she crushed a 1-0 offering from Tamara Grayson well over the fence in left with two outs to give Monroe a 5-4 lead.

Hawks head coach John Ritter said he toyed with the idea of walking Wayland (2-for-4, double, home run) to face Dragons cleanup hitter Jessica Ford (two doubles) with two outs.

“I wasn’t gonna pitch to (Wayland), but the girl behind her is just as good. I had to pick my poison and I picked it wrong,” Ritter said with a laugh. “I mean she hit the crap out of that ball. She hit it well.”

Skyline's Alexis Grim gives teammate Alana Smith a bear hug after Grim hit a two-run homer during the sixth inning Thursday evening against William Monroe. Rich Cooley/Daily

Tamara Grayson, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam to prevent further damage in the seventh after giving up the home run, allowed five runs (three earned) on 11 hits and a walk while striking out four. She also had two hits at the plate.

Skyline’s defense did its starting pitcher few favors in the first two innings, as the Hawks intensified the impact of four hits with three errors in that span to help William Monroe plate a run in the first and two more in the second.

“That’s what I like about them, they never lay down. They just got no quit,” Ritter said of his team. “When you play like that – I think they got down on themselves a little bit in the second when we were kind of a little laid back on them bunts and let them get those other couple runs, but they’re pretty resilient. That’s what I like about them.”

Skyline will host Riverside at 6 p.m. Thursday in the Conference 28 championship game already relieved of the pressure of trying to qualify for the regional tournament.

“It’s really important,” Sirbaugh said of the Hawks’ regional berth. “We just wanna keep on getting better each year, and we’ve done that. We just wanna do it for our one senior, do it for each other, do it for our coaches, our town, everybody. We just wanna get to that next level so we can be successful.”

Skyline's shortstop Emma Benson prepares to tag out William Monroe's Morgan Lam as she prepares to reach third base during second inning action Wednesday evening in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

William Monroe's Brystal Dickerson slides into home plate as Skyline's catcher Rachel Sirbaugh waits on the throw during second inning action Wednesday evening in Front Royal. Dickerson was safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

William Monroe outfielder Kaitlyn Beale hits the turf after making a diving catch to end the fourth inning as teammate Morgan Lam looks on. Rich Cooley/Daily

William Monroe coach Greg Breeden gives a high five to Alexis Wayland after she hit a two-run homer in the seventh inning to temporarily take the lead. Rich Cooley/Daily

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