FRONT ROYAL - The Central Falcons came up with a pair of clutch hits on Monday to rally past the Skyline Hawks 7-6 to open their season with a huge win.
The Hawks (0-1), with many of the same players returning that helped the team advance to the Class 3 state semifinals last year, had built an early 5-1 lead after two innings before the Falcons bats came to life late in the game.
"You're never as bad as you think you are, and you are never as good as you think you are - the answer lies somewhere in between," Central coach Scott Mongold said. "But this is a big win for these young girls,"
Trailing 5-2 entering the top of the fifth inning, Central began its comeback against reliever Emma Benson, who had just came into the game for starter Val Martin.
With one out, lead-off hitter Chloe Burton drew a walk, then Megan Babcock followed with a single to right.
Up next was Central's senior catcher Alex Martz, who has signed to play college ball with Shepherd University next year.
Martz, who hit .507 last year and led the area with four home runs and 31 RBI, turned on a Benson fastball and drove it over the right field fence to tie the game at 5-5.
In the bottom of the inning, the Hawks responded.
With one out sophomore Lexi Clatterbuck singled off Falcons pitcher Alicia Ball, who came on during the second inning in place of starter Bailey Spriggle.
Clatterbuck promptly stole second base. One out later, freshman Astoria Free, who came in as a sub the inning before, ripped a single to right to score Clatterbuck and push the Hawks back into the lead.
In the top of seventh, Benson retired Brooke Green on an infield ground-out to start the inning, but Burton came through again for the Falcons with a hard single to left.
Babcock executed a sacrifice bunt to move Burton over to second, bringing Mantz back up with a chance to tie the game.
Skyline coach John Ritter decided to walk Mantz intentionally, to set up a force at any base and leave the game in the hands of Ball, who was 0-for-3 on the night with a pair of strikeouts.
But Ball drew a walk to load the bases.
That brought up freshman Ivy Mongold.
Ritter visited the mound and decided to pull Benson and bring back Martin to face Mongold.
Mongold flied to deep left and doubled off Martin in her two earlier at bats, and didn't waste any time in putting a charge into Martin's first pitch.
Mongold drilled the first offering for her second hit of the game, scoring Burton and Babcock to put the Falcons up by a run.
"Those two girls (Mantz and Mongold) live for the big moment," Mongold said. "In a big situation, the light goes on for them. They pick it up to another level. They want the bat in their hands."
Skyline still had a shot in the bottom of the inning.
Benson led off the inning with a single, then moved to second after tagging on a deep fly to right by Rachel Sirbaugh.
Clatterbuck then grounded out to second to move Benson to third.
Taylor Bowers then attempted two drag bunts, but fouled both to fall into an 0-2 hole.
Ball then slipped a knee-high fastball by for strike three to end the game.,
"Not a good way to start the season," Ritter said. "We didn't play well and we made some mistakes that hurt us."
The Falcons grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Mantz's RBI double, but the Hawks responded in the bottom of the inning as Benson doubled with one out and came around to score on Sirbaugh's triple.
Clatterbuck then drove in Sirbaugh with a single.
In the second, the Hawks tacked on three more runs.
With runners on second and third and two out, Ball relieved Spiggle.
In a lefty-lefty match-up, Benson drilled a fastball down the right field line for a triple, driving in both runs.
Benson eventually came around on an infield error to give the Hawks their 5-1 lead.
The Falcons scored their second run in the fourth on back-to-back doubles from Mongold and Kamryn Stottlemyer.
The Hawks ran themselves out of a couple scoring opportunities in the second and fifth innings.
"This one loss doesn't end the season," Ritter said. "We have some things to work on. We had a couple of chances were we failed to capitalize."
The Falcons and the Hawks each had nine hits in the game.
Mantz led the Falcons with a pair of hits and five RBI. Mongold added a pair of hits and two RBI.
Ball worked 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on four hits and four strikeouts.
Benson went 3-for-4 for the Hawks and Clatterbuck added two hits.