BERRYVILLE — What began as a week of opportunity for Central’s baseball team came to a disappointing close on Thursday afternoon.
The Falcons entered Tuesday’s game at George Mason with a chance to snatch first place in the Bull Run District from the Mustangs but fell, 3-1. Central then had a chance to stay in contention for the district’s regular-season title and leapfrog Clarke County for second place on Thursday but again saw those hopes dashed.
Central mustered little against Clarke County starter Jack Taylor, who allowed just two hits over seven shutout innings, while the Eagles banged out 13 hits in a 9-0 Bull Run District win.
“We missed an opportunity this week,” Falcons head coach Sean Semones said. “We had an opportunity to take over first place against George Mason (in a) big game, that was by far the biggest game of the season and we just came up short, gave up three unearned runs. … Missed opportunity, for sure, but the good thing about it is we can bounce back next week.”
Clarke County (11-7, 6-3 Bull Run) struck first with a run in the bottom of the first inning off Central (11-7, 4-4) starter Sam Shifflett. After some confusion on the bases on Colby Childs’ infield single led to the Eagles running into the inning’s first out, junior Mike Edwards grounded a single through the right side of a drawn-in infield to plate Danny Lyman, who led off with a single.
The Eagles added another run in the second on an RBI single by No. 9 hitter Luke Lyman, and in the third inning, some shaky Central defense helped push three more Clarke runs across the plate.
The bottom of the third began with an Edwards walk and an Eamon Juday single, and Clarke’s third run of the game scored on a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. The Eagles bunted again in the next at-bat and no one covered first, loading the bases with no outs.
Matt Williams’ RBI groundout gave the Eagles a four-run lead, and Ryan Miller’s RBI single on a high fly ball into shallow left — which appeared to get hung up in the wind and fell in front of a diving Michael French, the Falcons’ left fielder — made it 5-0 before the inning came to an end.
“What really hurt us tonight was situational baseball, just some basic things — bunt coverages and making routine plays and just knowing your situations,” said Semones, who also lost his starting catcher, Greg Bartol, to injury during the game. “We struggled with that today.”
Clarke County chased Shifflett from the game in the fourth inning after the Central senior gave up a single to Childs and a walk to Edwards to lead off the frame. Falcons reliever Logan Yew dealt a one-out walk to load the bases two batters later, and Taylor opened the game up with a two-RBI single to right. Williams’ RBI on a bunt made it 8-0 Eagles.
Thursday was an atypical start for Shifflett, who entered the game with a 0.53 ERA. Clarke County tagged the senior for seven earned runs on 10 hits and three walks over three-plus innings. Shifflett struck out one.
Shifflett, who has thrown 43 innings this season, has pitched in 14 of Central’s 18 games and made relief appearances on Monday and Tuesday, throwing 52 pitches combined in those two outings. He threw 63 more pitches on Thursday.
“He’s been dominant all season long, nobody’s touched him,” Semones said. “... His arm was not fully 100 percent. It was hurting after the George Mason game, he had to come in in relief, but he was not fully 100 percent.”
Semones added that he was concerned about starting Shifflett on Thursday against Clarke.
“Yes I was. I was really considering hard not even starting him and just saving him for the tournament, when it really matters,” Semones said. “But I was going to keep him low today. I think he threw 60-some pitches today, 63, 64. I was going to bring Logan in, in relief. (Shifflett) stuck it out. I told him to communicate to me if it was unbearable. I obviously don’t want to hurt a kid’s arm.”
Edwards made it a 9-0 game in the fifth with his RBI single.
Danny Lyman (two runs), Childs, Edwards (2-for-2, two walks, two runs), Taylor (3-for-3, two RBIs) and Miller each had multi-hit days for the Eagles.
Silas Ruhling and Jeremy Viar had Central’s only two hits in the loss.
Central closes the regular season next week with home games against Rappahannock County and Strasburg.