WOODSTOCK – Central’s baseball team is entering crunch time in what has become a hotly contested race in the Bull Run District, and the Falcons had a chance to seize some momentum on Monday night before they dove headfirst into the rest of their district schedule.
Central, which saw a five-game winning streak snapped with a loss at Madison County last week, had already rebounded from that setback with a 5-0 non-district win over Martinsburg (West Virginia) on May 1, but rain halted a Bull Run contest against Rappahannock County on Friday night, which head coach Sean Semones said “got us off rhythm a little bit.” Add in the fact that Central’s prom meant a late night on Saturday night, and the Falcons needed a boost to start the final two weeks of the regular season.
They got it with a 5-3 win over Stonewall, a team that limped into the game – which was moved from Rebel Park to Central due to a wet field – having lost six straight games.
“Their record may not show it, but when they come play us, they’re ready to play ball. They bring energy,” Semones said of the Generals after the win and before a key district road game at George Mason on Tuesday. “… It was great to get back on track with a win (Monday night). We came from behind. We battled back. We got that pitcher (Stonewall junior Tyler Dellinger) deep in the game and he ran out of gas. He ran out of gas and that was the key to the game. We put the ball in play, had a couple crucial hits and a couple key errors they made and we took advantage of it.”
Central, playing as the road team on their own field, trailed for much of Monday’s game after an error in the bottom of the first inning pushed two Stonewall runs across. The Falcons took the lead with three runs in the fifth after the Generals committed a costly error of their own to fuel a Central two-out rally, and after padding their lead with two more runs in the seventh, the Falcons had to turn to ace Sam Shifflett to lock down the save after Stonewall loaded the bases with no outs in the seventh.
After allowing one inherited runner to score, Shifflett struck out the next three batters, preserving a solid outing from senior left-hander Brandon Davis, who got the start for Central against the Generals and allowed three runs (one earned) on six hits, a walk and seven strikeouts.
“Doing the work that I did tonight, I mean, it was good,” said Davis, who allowed just two hits in Central’s five-inning win over Martinsburg last week. “I gave my teammates a chance to win and that’s what I’m always looking (to be) out here doing.”
While Monday’s win was nice – and Semones’ willingness to use Shifflett to lock down the win showed how much the non-district contest meant to the Falcons – Central’s meaningful games restarted on Tuesday with a trip to take on George Mason, a game Semones said on Monday was the Falcons’ biggest contest of the season to date.
Entering Tuesday, Mason (5-2 in the Bull Run) held a half-game lead over Central (4-2) for the top spot in the district race. The Falcons also travel on Friday to Clarke County, which entered Tuesday tied with Strasburg for third place in the Bull Run with a district record of 4-3.
Central, which had won seven of its last eight games heading into the Mason contest, closes the regular season with games against Strasburg and Rappahannock County next week.
“We just have to prepare well for these teams,” Davis said. “Just have to make the plays and just gotta work hard in practice every day, coming in knowing you’ve got a good mindset going into the next day. Just be ready to work hard and try to go out there and get the rest of these wins.”
Heading into Tuesday, the Bull Run District title truly was there for the taking. Central, Mason, Strasburg and Clarke County all have been jockeying for the district’s top spot since league play began. Fifth-place Madison County, which started 0-4 in the district, has since knocked off Central, Clarke and Rappahannock County to join the fray and entered Tuesday just two games back of first place.
Rapp, the Bull Run’s lone Class 1 team, appears destined for sixth place in the regular season race, meaning that the top three teams in the district likely will earn the first three of the Bull Run’s four spots in the Region 2B tournament.
“There’s really no pressure,” Falcons senior John French said of competing in a tight district race. “As long as we are just playing to our potential, we don’t really get worried. We can only do what we can do, and when we do that we usually win, so there’s not pressure really. I mean obviously when game day comes we’re all ready to go and there’s pressure that we need to be ready to go, but once we start playing, you don’t really feel it.”
Central won the Bull Run District regular season title last season, and the Falcons are hoping for a repeat.
“I think it’s gonna come down to us pitching, throwing strikes, but our bats gotta stay alive,” said Semones, whose Falcons batted .253 as a team in its last three games entering Tuesday. “They’ve kind of dipped off a little bit the last couple games. We were real hot on that five-game win streak until the Madison game. If our bats come back alive, I think that’s the most crucial thing. When we hit, we’re very tough to beat. I think any team can say that but I really feel confident in our defense and holding a lead. … We haven’t blown any leads. If we get ahead of teams, I feel very confident. That’s a key for this team.”