STEPHENS CITY – Rachel Sirbaugh has been struggling at the plate this season, but she may have found her groove on Monday night.
The Skyline senior hit two home runs in a 13-5 softball victory over Sherando.
“I’ve been struggling hitting this year as opposed to last year,” Sirbaugh said. “It just feels good to finally break out of that slump. Even if I wouldn’t have hit two home runs, if they would have just been two base hits, I would have been happy. So two home runs and a win with that big of a margin is just great for this team.”
The Hawks scored a run in the top of the first to take the early lead. Abbey Lee reached on an error and moved to second on a groundout by Emma Benson. Sirbaugh reached on an error and Grace Benson was hit by a pitch from Sherando starting pitcher Lauren Smith to load the bases. An RBI groundout by Taylor Bowers scored Lee to give the Hawks a 1-0 edge.
Sherando responded in the bottom of the first. With one out, Sherando’s Sierra Strosnider drew a walk and Smith’s RBI double tied the game at 1-1. Brooke Moses drew a walk from Skyline starting pitcher Emma Benson. With two outs, Veronika Lord’s two-run double gave the Warriors a 3-1 lead.
The Hawks came right back in the top of the second. Skyline’s Alana Smith and Lee had back-to-back one-out singles. Sirbaugh followed with a three-run homer to give Skyline a 4-3 edge.
“Being the senior, you try not to think about anything,” Sirbaugh said of her approach at the plate. “Just clear your mind, nobody’s on the bases just try not to think about the situation. Just go up there and swing the bat like always.”
Before last week the Hawks went 20 days without a game, and Skyline coach John Ritter said the layoff hurt many of the players offensively, including Sirbaugh.
“The biggest thing I told her is stay relaxed, don’t try to do too much; let it come to you and have some fun,” Ritter said. “Tonight, that’s what she did. She was relaxed, had some fun and let the pitches get in so she could drive them.”
Sirbaugh suffered a shoulder injury in the first game of the season and has been used only as a designated player in every game until last week. She played at her usual position, catcher, against district rival William Monroe. Ritter said they are trying not to overuse her in the field, which is why she was back at the designated player spot on Monday.
Skyline extended the lead in the top of the fourth. Alana Smith had a one-out double. Lee followed with a single and Alana Smith eventually scored on a wild pitch for a 5-3 lead.
The Hawks added to the lead in the top of the fifth. Skyline’s Lexi Clatterbuck was hit by a pitch from Sherando relief pitcher Jazmyn Long. She moved to second on a groundout and to third on a throwing error and eventually scored on a wild pitch.
With two outs, Skyline’s Valarie Martin hit a solo home run to extend the lead to 7-3.
“Val’s been working hard all year,” Ritter said. “The beginning of the season Val was swinging a hot bat. Then the (20-day) layoff kind of hurt them all. It was nice to see Val hit one – it was coming. We’ve been working on keeping her weight back, staying down through the ball, and she did tonight.”
The Warriors (10-6) cut the lead to 7-4 in the bottom of the fifth on a solo home run by Veronika Lord.
In the bottom of the sixth, Lauren Smith drew a walk and scored on a single by Moses and a Skyline error.
The Hawks (7-4) broke the game open in the top of the seventh with a little help from Sherando’s defense. Alana Smith reached base on a fielder’s choice and Lee followed with a single. With two outs, Emma Benson popped up behind the catcher, but Sherando catcher Emma Chunta couldn’t hang onto the ball in foul territory. Emma Benson then hit a two-run double to extend the lead to 9-5.
“I told my coaches that if we were able to hold them to seven runs through the top of the seventh we were going to win the game – and I truly felt that way,” Sherando coach Clarence Smith said. “I felt we were seeing the ball off their pitcher very well all night. Then a ball found us, and we weren’t prepared to make a play, and it hurt us.”
Sirbaugh followed with her second homer and the Hawks added two more runs to seal the win. After the 7-5 loss to William Monroe last week, Sirbaugh said it felt good to get back on track.
“William Monroe, they’ve always been our rival besides Warren County,” Sirbaugh said. “So for us to lose that, it really opened our eyes that we got to keep working. Nothing’s going to be given to us. So I think this was a good way to show that we’re back.”
The Warriors were led at the plate by Blake Conner and Lord with two hits each. Sherando left 11 runners on base. Clarence Smith said leaving runners on base along with four errors were a sign of his team not being focused like they needed to be. The Warriors are tied for first in Class 4 Northwestern District and Clarence Smith said his team needs to play better the rest of the way.
“We just seem to, for whatever reason, lose focus when we play outside of our district,” Clarence Smith said. “That’s not to take anything away from Skyline – they’re a good team. But we just weren’t able to give them our ‘A’ game tonight. And unfortunately we’re not good enough to play a ‘B’ and a ‘C’ and a ‘D’ game and still win. But we control our own destiny. We just need to win out, and then we’ll see where the chips lie. Hopefully, it ends up with the No. 1 seed (in the Class 4 Northwestern District tournament) for us.”
Sirbaugh finished with three hits and five RBIs, while Lee had four hits for the Hawks. Skyline had 15 hits in the game.
The Hawks, who were Class 3 state semifinalists last year, play at cross-town rival Warren County on Thursday in a key district game. Warren County is in first place in the Class 3 Northwestern District.
“We’re very excited,” Sirbaugh said of playing the Wildcats. “They’re going to be tough for sure – they always are. It’s going to be a great game.”