FRONT ROYAL - A big inning turned everything around for Central on Monday night.
The Falcons used a 12-run fifth inning to rally for a 17-6 victory over Skyline in non-district baseball action. It was the season opener for both teams and it showed throughout the 3-hour and 25-minute game.
Central coach Sean Semones said he told his players before the start of the fifth inning to change their approach at the plate and it paid off.
"I told the boys to see more pitches," Semones said. "Make them throw a strike and make them come to you and wait for your pitch. We were being too aggressive at the start of the game. And that fifth inning, I said see your pitches and wait and be more patient. And that was the major difference in that inning."
Trailing 5-1 entering the top of the fifth, Central senior Sam Shifflett doubled with one out against Skyline relief pitcher R.J. Look. Shifflett was the first of 14 straight batters to reach base for the Falcons.
Central's Andrew Daugherty followed with an RBI single and John French added a single of his own. Junior Kelan Hoover doubled to score two runs and cut the lead to 5-4.
Michael French and Logan Yew each drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Skyline's Caleb Reedy relieved Look on the mound but was unable to record an out.
Central's Chase Helsey drew a walk to score a run and tie the game at 5-5. A wild pitch scored another to give the Falcons a 6-5 edge.
Central's Silas Ruhling drew a walk to once again load the bases. Two more wild pitches scored two runs to give the Falcons an 8-5 lead. Central's Gregory Bartol drew another walk before Nolan Golden relieved Reedy.
Another wild pitch, a hit batsman and two more walks helped the Falcons eventually extend the lead to 13-5.
"We got some young pitchers and guys haven't pitched in a while in game situations," Skyline coach Jeff Monroe said. "This is basically a scrimmage game. We haven't been able to pitch live or see live pitching yet. So this is all new to us right now."
Skyline took the lead in the bottom of the first. With one out, Look drew a walk from Central starting pitcher Shifflett. Tyler Hugo followed with a single. Shifflett was called for a balk, which moved the runners to second and third.
Look scored on a fielder's choice on a ball hit by Sam Harris for a 1-0 lead.
Central tied the game in the top of the third with some help from Skyline. Ruhling led off the inning with a fly ball to right field, which was dropped for a three-base error. With one out, Shifflett's sacrifice fly RBI tied the game.
In the bottom of the third, Shifflett retired the first two batters but was relieved on the mound by Hoover. Hugo drew a walk and Harris was hit by a pitch from Hoover. Pinch-runner Golden and Harris each stole a base and Golden eventually scored on a wild pitch for a 2-1 advantage.
Semones said he had Shifflett on a pitch count but was happy with how he performed on the mound.
"Sam (Shifflett) battled in there," Semones said. "He stayed strong. He actually got hot towards the end. I kept him on a pitch count. We got three games this week. I came in here wanting to keep him under 50 pitches. But when it came to that time to pull him he was actually on. He was actually grooving back in with confidence and we were playing well."
The Hawks extended the lead in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Skyline's Ty Clingerman and Riley Oates drew back-to-back walks off Hoover. A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third.
Caleb Reedy grounded out for the second out, but Oates ran to third while Clingerman didn't leave the base on the play. Central's Shifflett threw to second for what looked like an easy out as Oates was running back to second, but the ball was dropped for an error and Clingerman was able to score for a 3-1 lead.
A two-base error scored Oates and Hugo followed with an RBI double for a 5-1 Skyline lead.
"We did some good things," Monroe said. "We're pleased in a lot of ways. Not pleased with the outcome, but we're just trying to get things changed around here and get guys to step up this year. It's going to come - I feel like. The guys had a good attitude about things tonight. I thought we hit the ball pretty decent tonight, too."
Hugo was a big bright spot for the Hawks on the mound. He went 3.2 innings, but Monroe said he had him on a pitch count and didn't want to overuse him in the first week of the season. Hugo struck out 7 and allowed just two hits.
Offensively, Hugo had two doubles and a single to lead the Hawks. Monroe said he's sure things will get better as the season goes on.
"The biggest thing is we've got to have some guys step up pitching-wise," Monroe said. "And that's going to come once they get more comfortable going in games. It's going to come around. Caleb (Reedy) hadn't thrown since ninth grade year. R.J. (Look) hadn't thrown in a couple years. So those two are guys that we're counting on to come on in relief some. They just hadn't been in that situation in a while. So hopefully they're going to come around."
Skyline plays at Brentsville today.
The Falcons were led offensively by Shifflett, Daugherty and John French with two hits each. The Falcons also had solid efforts on the mound from Logan Yew and Brandon Davis over the last three innings. Central hosts Stonewall Jackson tonight.
"Overall it feels good to get a win," Semones said. "And I'm very happy with getting my pitchers rotated in. My top four guys got in the ball game. And also every single player got in the ball game. So I'm happy with that. I'm very happy that all the players got in there. It was a team win."