FRONT ROYAL — Sometimes a softball team needs a test like the one Skyline got from Brentsville on Tuesday night.
The Hawks, a program coming off a state tournament appearance and trying to ramp up for another postseason run, entered the Class 3 Northwestern District matchup as the favorites against a Tigers team that has won just two games this spring.
The Hawks did indeed get the win — their ninth in their last 11 games — but Brentsville made it no easy feat, threatening Skyline’s slim lead on multiple occasions and stranding the tying run at third base in the Hawks’ 3-2 victory.
The win held a little more drama than maybe the Hawks would’ve liked, but head coach John Ritter agreed afterward that games like Tuesday’s nailbiter hold some value as a tool to be used as Skyline pushes closer to playoff time.
“I think it does,” Ritter said after his team improved to 10-5 overall and 3-2 against district competition, “because it’s a good confidence thing for them, to let them know that they can win these kinds of ballgames.”
It was actually quite impressive that Skyline was able to find a way to win, especially with their bats kept off-balance all evening by Tigers sophomore right-hander Rachel Bush, a soft-tossing “junkballer,” to use Ritter’s term.
The Hawks were out-hit 11-6 in the win — senior Alana Smith and junior Olivia Heflin each had two hits for Skyline — and were given two of their three runs when a first-inning error on Taylor Bowers’ grounder with two outs sent a pair of runners across the plate.
Brentsville, meanwhile, loaded the bases in the third and sixth innings but managed just one run out of those opportunities, and the Tigers, after scratching across a run in the top of the seventh after doubles by Lexie Reid and Ellie Post, put the tying run at third before Skyline senior pitcher Valarie Martin induced a game-ending comebacker.
“It really does come down to who makes the least errors and who can just play better in the field,” said Smith, who delivered what turned out to be the game-winning RBI with her sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth inning. “It definitely was nerve-wracking when we were in that position though.”
Smith played a big hand — perhaps the biggest — in keeping Skyline’s lead intact when the Tigers loaded the bases for the second time in the sixth.
With one out in the inning and the bases full, Bush hit a ball into the right-center field gap that Smith, the Hawks’ center fielder, tracked down and snagged with an outstretched glove. Smith’s grab and quick throw to the plate likely prevented at least two runs from scoring.
Martin, who was filling in for junior Emma Benson as she recovers from a groin injury, notched her only strikeout of the night to end the top of the sixth and hold onto Skyline’s 2-1 lead.
“Honestly, Alana was the reason they didn’t score,” Martin, who tossed all seven innings, said with a laugh. “I mean it would’ve been a different ballgame if she wouldn’t have caught that ball. We owe her a lot for that, I do especially.”
Tuesday’s win, which came on the heels of Monday’s 18-0 drubbing of Handley, was the second in a row for Skyline since it dropped a one-run game to cross-town rival Warren County last Thursday, giving the Hawks some momentum heading into a pivotal rematch against William Monroe on Friday.
Warren County, William Monroe and Skyline all figure to be in contention for the top three spots in the Region 3B tournament field when the playoffs start in a couple of weeks.
“That’s definitely a game that we need to win,” Smith said. “We need that game, and I think that these two games have helped us, just the confidence thing has really helped us to get prepared. When we played William Monroe last time (on April 23), we hadn’t had a game in like 20 days before then. So definitely I think having these games, and winning, for sure will help on Friday.”
William Monroe edged Skyline, 7-5, in their first meeting in Front Royal two weeks ago. It was a back-and-forth meeting, with the Green Dragons staking an early 4-0 lead in the first inning, Skyline recovering to take a one-run advantage in the middle innings and Monroe countering with three runs in the sixth and seventh innings.
Monroe is 10-6 overall and 5-1 in district play heading into the rematch.
“They have really strong everything,” Martin said of the Dragons. “They have good hitters throughout the lineup, they really spread them out. Their pitching’s really good. … They’re kind of like us. I feel like they’re close and they all play really well together, and they’ve all been playing together so long now that they just work together really well.”