Hawks hold on for conference championship
By Jim Laise
FRONT ROYAL — Four times during the regular season coach John Ritter said his Skyline High School softball team have faced extra innings. They won each game.
Make it No. 5 Friday, as the Hawks (19-4) won the school’s first Conference 28 tournament, edging visiting Riverside High 2-1 in 11 innings.
“I think those extra-inning games meant a lot,” said Ritter after Abbey Lee scored what proved to be the difference maker as she raced home on an error in the bottom of the 11th inning.
“They’re a resilient group. They’ve been that way all along,” said the man who is in his second season as head coach after working as the Hawks’ assistant for several years.
“Honestly, I think it’s the confidence that John gives us in practice. I mean he’s very positive about everything but at the same time he corrects our mistakes. I think he gives us confidence,” said Jessica Sims.
Skyline’s lone senior, Sims, the center fielder, beat out a perfect bunt and then watched as a throwing error on the part of the Rams allowed the speedy Lee to hustle home with the game’s deciding score. Lee’s base-on-balls began the 11th.
It was the second straight game that the Hawks won in their last at-bats after beating William Monroe earlier on a Rachel Sirbaugh walk-off single.
Riverside left two base runners stranded in the first inning and then Skyline wasted an opportunity after leadoff hitter Emma Benson lined a double into the left center power alley in the bottom of the same frame.
In the bottom of the second, Alexis Grim slammed a home run high over the right field fence — her seventh of the year — to give the Hawks a 1-0 run lead.
In the top of the third, Riverside tied the game. Ninth-hitter Chloe Benson singled to left to begin Riverside’s half of the frame. Two singles followed and loaded the bases for an infield play that pushed the Rams’ run across for a 1-all tie.
From there Skyline, starter Tamara Grayson threw eight straight shutout innings. The Rams left 10 runners on base.
Grayson was ably backed up by Alana Smith at second base. She fielded a handful of tough grounders throughout the game. The Hawks made no errors as a team.
“We had our opportunities. We just couldn’t push the runs across,” said Riverside coach Samantha Ingersoll.
Matching Gray, for the most part from the visitors’ circle, was Riverside freshman Bella Radicon.
The 5-foot-5, 120-pounder showed a cannon for an arm.
“I don’t know how she does it. What I do know is that people ought to eat like Bella,” Ingersoll said with a smile.
The lithe hurler went 11 innings, striking out seven, walking two, and allowing seven hits. She threw eight shutout innings before the Hawks put it away in their half of the final extra frame.
The Hawks got runners on second and third in the bottom of the sixth when Tamara Grayson slammed a double to left to move Sims to third. Still Radicon worked out of the jam.
Meanwhile, Tamara Grayson was solid, too.
The junior went the distance. She struck out six, walked one, and allowed 10 hits.
“Honestly, it’s nerve-wracking. But I use my coach. I use my teammates. I use the fans to pump me up. That kept me going out there today,” Grayson said. “I’m just so excited to be part of something like this: Skyline’s first conference championship in softball; that’s big.”
“In a game like this, your heart is on edge the whole way. You’re nervous without looking nervous. But you know every pitch, every hit is important so you’re kind of peeking at what’s going to happen next. We try not to show it, but the pressure’s there,” said Grim.
“It’s hard to say,” said Ritter. “It’s not something you can teach, a team either has it or not. This team has it.”
Meghan Jones went 3-for-3 for Riverside; Brown was 2-for-5.
Grim was 3-for-4 with the home run for Skyline. Benson and Tamara Grayson doubled.
Skyline will host a first round Region 3A East tournament game Tuesday, probably at 6 p.m., with the winner of the Armstrong-Spottsylvania game, which was also played Friday.
Riverside (15-7) will visit the loser of that game.
Conference 28 Championship
Skyline High School
Hawks 2, Rams 1 (11 innings)
Score by innings
Riverside 001 000 000 00-1 10 1
Skyline 001 000 000 01-2 7 0
Riverside-Radicon and Jones
Skyline-Tamara Grayson and Sirbaugh