WOODSTOCK – Central’s softball team played for a shot at the No. 2 seed in the upcoming Bull Run District tournament on Thursday night. A coin flip eventually fell against the Falcons, but they will take some momentum into the postseason nonetheless.
Central forced a tie with Rappahannock County for second place in the Bull Run on Thursday night by topping the visiting Panthers, 9-5, in the regular-season finale for both teams. The Falcons then lost the coin flip that was used to decide which team got the district tournament’s second seed – and a first-round bye in next Monday’s quarterfinals – but it was their fifth win their last seven games.
In that span, Central (11-9, 6-4 Bull Run) lost a tight 3-0 contest to district unbeaten Madison County on the road on April 30 and closed the regular season this week with key wins over Strasburg (the fourth seed in the tournament) and Rappahannock County (15-5, 6-4), which hadn’t lost consecutive games all season until Thursday.
“We seem to be peaking at the right time,” said Falcons head coach Scott Mongold, whose team will host No. 6 George Mason on Monday to kick off the playoffs. “Now, I don’t know that we’re ‘Madison’ peaking, but as a team, we’re peaking at the right time.
“We’re close, man,” he added. “As a team we’re close. We seem to be playing really good softball at the right time. You take that hiccup against Clarke (a 7-4 loss last week) away from us and it’s been a pretty solid run.”
Mongold agreed that Thursday’s game showed just how much Central has improved over the last month. When the Falcons traveled to Rappahannock County on April 16, they fell in shutout fashion, 6-0. That loss capped a span which saw Central lose five of seven games.
The Falcons weren’t flawless in the rematch – they needed to survive six errors to beat the Panthers – but they jumped out early and made the key plays when they needed to.
“It felt really good because we all worked, every one of those ladies in there, they all worked for it, and seeing it happen was great,” Falcons sophomore pitcher Alicia Ball said after tossing seven innings while allowing 11 hits and striking out seven in the win. “We were up, we were ready. Like last time it felt like maybe we were more down. We’d been struggling a little bit. But now we’re like on a roll and I feel like it’s only going upwards from here.”
The Falcons played like Thursday was their game to win.
Aggressive baserunning by leadoff hitter Chloee Burton – who reached base four times and scored three runs in the win – in the bottom of the first inning forced an errant Rapp throw and led to Central’s first run of the game.
Central padded its lead with more smart baserunning in the fourth, when Natalie Broy froze between first and second after her single to right field, drawing another wild throw that allowed pinch-runner Brooke Green to scamper home.
The Falcons also helped negate some of their shaky defense with some timely stops.
When the Panthers loaded the bases in the second inning after two Falcon errors and a hit batter with one out, Central catcher Alex Mantz picked off a runner at third and Ball notched her second strikeout of the game.
In the third, three straight two-out singles again packed the bases for Rappahannock County before Ball again ended the inning with a strikeout.
“The best thing that we’ve got going for us right now is Alicia Ball,” Mongold said. “… We’ll go as far as Alicia Ball’s left arm takes us. She had struggled with compounding those innings. She’s a small-framed kid, you know what I mean, she’s not built like a pitcher, so 14 innings in two days is entirely too much. But she is getting to the point now where 14 innings in the third day is survivable.”
Central also immediately negated an error in the fourth inning when, after a ball was mishandled following a single, the relay throw nabbed a Rapp runner trying to turn the blunder into a two-base error.
“Normally you see girls, they make an error and their heads go down,” Mantz said. “Tonight it was just we had the mindset in our heads that we want to win this game, so that’s what we went out to do.”
Mantz led an opportunistic Central offense with two doubles and five RBIs, driving in a pair of runs in the third inning with her first hit and clearing the bases with a three-run double in the bottom of the sixth that put the Falcons up 9-3.
Central freshman Kendra Boyce also launched her first home run of the season in the fourth, a two-run shot that gave the Falcons a 6-0 lead.
“Ever since we lost against Clarke, these past few games we’ve had like a different mindset in the game,” Mantz said. “It’s like we’re all in the game instead of like a few heads not there. It was like we were all together tonight.”
Central, which has already locked up a spot in the Region 2B tournament, beat George Mason (2-14, 0-9) by scores of 9-1 and 12-2 this season. A win over the Mustangs in Monday’s quarterfinals would set up a rematch against Rappahannock County in Washington.
“We want to finish first, but we want to go into that district tournament on a high note,” Mongold said. “We want to play Madison. We want to play with Madison and the way we’re playing right now, I’d be interested to see how the chips shake out.”