Skyline blitzes Armstrong, awaits state champ

By Jim Laise

FRONT ROYAL – – Skyline High School girls’ softball coach John Ritter took one look at Tuesday’s opposing starting pitcher and then called his Hawks together.

“It was a big part of our pregame talk,” Ritter said.

The pitcher was junior utility player Daqueasha Martin of Armstrong High School, and essentially, she delivered the ball like a slow-pitcher hurler. Rather than fire speedy fastballs and strikes, Martin’s pitches had lots of arc, but little in speed.

Was it good or bad?

“The minute I saw her throwing I knew what we were up against. I told my team to take a good look at (Martin) and adjust their swings accordingly. For the most part, they did a good job,” Ritter said.

Skyline won a program-best 20th game (20-4 overall) and advanced to the semifinal round of the Region 3A East Tournament with a 30-1 onslaught over the Wildcats, who hail from Richmond.

“The one thing I told them was to get up in front of the box and swing from there,” said Ritter, the Conference 28 coach of the year.

It worked. The Hawks, who will take on Warhill High School at 5 p.m. Thursday  at home, banged out 24 hits in notching their top run production of the season. Everyone, up and down the lineup, had major offensive nights.

Meanwhile, Skyline starter Tamara Grayson and reliever Emma Benson limited Armstrong to just one hit.

There are no mercy rules in regional softball competition.

It was Warhill who knocked the Hawks out of the regional semifinals a year ago, so it’s déjà vu all over again. Warhill went on to claim a Group 3A state title in 2016.

“We had faced pitchers (like Martin) against Handley and against Manassas Park, but (Martin) might have thrown a little softer,” said Alana Smith, one of many who had seasonal highs against the Wildcats.

Skyline had drilled George Mason 24-2 and 20-0 so they knew something about drubbings. Armstrong (7-6) had a record loaded with blowout losses like 17-2, to Highland Springs, but also was on the winning side of a 24-5 victory over George Marshall.

The Wildcats actually led early 1-0 when speedy Breyanna Wilkerson got on base via a hit-by-pitch and then stole her way around to third. She scored on an error.

But Tamara Grayson shut down the Wildcats through the next three innings before Benson relieved her in the fifth.

Warren scored 11 runs in the first inning and seven in the second to set off the rout.

Jessica Sims and Valarie Martin each collected five hits in as many trips.

Sims connected on three doubles and drove home five runs. Martin scored five runs, drove home four more and slammed two doubles.

“I’ve just learned to be satisfied with hits this year,” said Martin. “I haven’t had the offensive season I’d like, I’ve settled down and am just hoping for hits. It worked today.”

Abby Lee scored four runs and had three stolen bases. Benson went 3-for-5, with two runs scored and five RBI. She slammed a double and stole four bases.

Alana Smith went 4-for-5 with four runs scored and two batted in. Reserve Kaley Mahoney was 2-for-2 with a double. Rachel Sirbaugh went 4-for-6, with four RBI, a triple and a home run.

“I feel like I’ve improved a lot on my own, working on batting practice over the weekend with dad and stuff,” said Smith, a slick-fielding second-baseman. “I’ve thought I am a better fielder, so I’m trying to improve my hitting.”

Tamara Grayson went 2-for-4, with a double and four RBI. Natasha Grayson was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and an RBI.

Alexis Grim was 2-for-2, including a triple and her third home run of the season.

“I think Alexis is just being more selective with what pitches she hits,” said Ritter. “Being more selective has helped her out, so her confidence is up. I’m proud of her. It’s a good time to see her get hot,” said Ritter.

Warhill could be led by starting pitcher Keely Richard, who threw a no-hitter in her first regular-season game this season. She threw shutouts in all seven post-season games in 2016, when she was 25-1. She is a Virginia Tech recruit.

Warhill knocked off Tabb High School in the quarterfinals, Tuesday.


Region 3A East quarterfinals

At Skyline

Score by innings

Armstrong 100 000 0-1 1 2

Skyline 11(7)6 321-30 24 1

WP: T. Grayson; LP Martin