Wildcats rally from three-run deficit, top Eagles to win sixth straight
FRONT ROYAL – Warren County’s baseball team managed little against Clarke County starting pitcher Jack Taylor through the first three innings of the teams’ non-district contest on Wednesday evening. But when Clarke broke a scoreless tie with a three-run fourth inning, it may have been just the jolt the Wildcats’ needed.
Warren County roughed up Eagle pitching for five runs in the fourth and fifth innings, and the Wildcats’ own arms delivered in key situations to power a 5-3 win at Bing Crosby Stadium. It was the sixth win in a row for Warren County and the second victory of the season over the Eagles.
“I think we came out a little bit flat, and I think, to be honest with you, we’re tired,” said Wildcats head coach Michael Minch, whose team improved to 7-1 overall. “This was our fifth game in seven days. The kids’ bodies are a little beat up, so it took us a little while, but it’s like we just needed something to get us going. As soon as they scored some runs we changed our approach a little bit at the plate and some kids really used the whole field. That was good to see.”
Clarke County (5-3), which tallied a hit in each of the first three innings and stranded four runners in that span, finally broke through for three runs following four consecutive singles off Wildcat starter Jackson Arnold in the top of the fourth.
Hits by Matt Williams, Nick Orndorff and Taylor – the latter a bunt – loaded the bases, and Eamon Juday dropped an RBI single into right field. An error on the play allowed a second run to score, and Danny Lyman’s sacrifice fly later in the inning gave Clarke County a 3-0 lead.
Warren County erased that deficit quickly in the bottom of the inning, smashing five hits – four for extra bases – to even the score at 3-3. Arnold led off the inning with a triple to center and scored on Hunter Wines’ double.
Ronnie Dodson singled to put runners at the corners one out later, and senior first baseman Conner McCollum (2-for-3) drove both home with a double to center to tie the game at 3-3. McCollum was tagged out after getting hung up between second and third for the second out of the inning, and Bryce Post followed with a double but was left stranded at second.
Minch said Warren County’s adjustment at the plate against Taylor – who threw a big, looping breaking ball with regularity against the Wildcats – included staying back and letting the ball travel.
“We just wanted to wear out right field, let the ball travel some more,” said Wines, who drove in two runs in the win and had two of the Wildcats’ eight hits. “We were just getting out in front of it early, just trying to jump on the early pitches. We just decided to hunt the fastball, take it to the opposite field.
“It was a good curveball, something different,” Wines added. “We don’t really see that a lot, so that made us want to hunt the fastball even more and leave that curveball alone if we could.”
Arnold stifled Clarke’s counterpunch by working out of a two-on, no-out jam in the top of the fifth, setting up the Wildcats’ go-ahead inning in the bottom half.
Warren County No. 9 hitter Dylan Johnson got the two-run inning started with a single and, following Jackson Arnold’s one-out walk, scored on Wines’ RBI single. Jacob Dodson’s sacrifice fly gave the Wildcats a 5-3 lead.
The Wildcats pitched out of another jam in the sixth, as reliever Will North sandwiched a pair of strikeouts around a groundout to strand a runner at third after Arnold dealt a leadoff walk to what would prove to be his final hitter of the night.
“Both Jackson and Will, they just competed, man,” Minch said. “They competed their butts off and we pride ourselves on that, they pride themselves on that. and that’s good to see. They trust their defense, they pitch to contact and they just competed for us.”
Clarke County stranded another runner at second against North in the seventh, bringing the total to nine left stranded – six in scoring position – in the loss. The Eagles finished with nine hits and put a runner on base in every inning.
“We’ve gotta be a little more aggressive at the plate,” said Eagles head coach Mike Smith, who started seven sophomores on Wednesday.
“There’s some inexperience in this lineup. That’s not really a huge excuse but there’s some guys that have never been put in a varsity situation where they’ve gotta come up big. And they’re learning, believe me. This is a process for us. … We’ll get there. Right now we’re trying to.”
Arnold, a sophomore right-hander, took the win while allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits, three walks and six strikeouts in five-plus innings.
“I think for the most part he was strike one, strike two and he had all three pitches,” Minch said. “He’s not gonna blow you away with any three of them but he fills up the zone, he comes right at you. He’s very young but he’s a helluva player.”
North picked up the save, going the final two innings while allowing one hit and striking out three.
Taylor took the loss after allowing five earned runs on seven hits, a walk and four strikeouts over 4 1/3 innings. He held Warren County to one hit while striking out four through the first three innings.
Kaden Warren (double) and Williams led Clarke County with two hits apiece.