STEPHENS CITY — The culprit may have been Skyline’s past success.
The Hawks have had plenty of it in recent years. They reached the Class 3 state semifinals last spring for the first time in school history, and in the two seasons before that Skyline came within a win of qualifying for the state tournament.
Skyline has grown accustomed to being a winning program with state-tournament aspirations under head coach John Ritter, and when the Hawks stumbled off the blocks in 2019, Ritter said Monday, it was likely because his players held lofty expectations and were too early in focusing on them.
“I think what they were doing was they were thinking ‘well, we know where we’re gonna be,’ and you can’t do that,” Ritter said after his team’s game against Sherando was rained out on Monday afternoon. “I think what it was is they put a lot of pressure on themselves, you’ve gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that. We weren’t pitching well. We just weren’t hitting well, we weren’t playing defense well. And sometimes you know, you’ve gotta have something to turn you around.”
That “something” came in the form of a come-from-behind win over Strasburg on March 27, a game in which Skyline scored nine runs in the top of the seventh inning to rally from a six-run deficit top the Rams, 15-12.
It was the spark that ignited a recent explosion at the plate that has the Hawks, who started the season 1-3, suddenly rolling. In their last four games, all wins, the Hawks (5-3) have combined for 62 runs, an average of 15.5 per contest.
Thirty-two of those runs have come against Strasburg — Skyline beat the Rams 17-4 last Wednesday, their most recent game — and the Hawks also put up 17 runs in a rematch with Central, a team that beat Skyline 7-6 in the season opener, and hung 13 runs on a James Wood squad that is 7-2 this spring.
The Hawks have been the beneficiaries of errors — opponents have committed a whopping 22 of them during their four-game win streak — but they’re also thumping the ball. Skyline is batting .380 as a team and already has eight home runs this season, two more than it had in 2018.
Six of those homers have come in the last four games, and Skyline is batting .456 as a team during their streak.
Ritter, whose team boasts a .605 slugging percentage, said the quick turnaround at the plate has stemmed from being more selective, and he added that the team has responded to what he called a “reality check” when the coaching staff addressed the need to return to a one-game-at-a-time approach.
“It worked out good. They were relaxed. They were just pressing a little bit. I don’t think they were having fun and they were trying too hard. We weren’t making good decisions at the plate,” Ritter said of the early slump.
“It was a quick turnaround, real quick turnaround. I was actually impressed and surprised the turnaround was so quick.”
Entering Friday’s Class 3 Northwestern District opener at Brenstville, three Hawks — freshman catcher Grace Benson (.500, 13-for-26), junior outfielder Taylor Bowers (.429, 12-for-28) and junior first baseman Olivia Heflin (.412, 7-for-17) — are batting over .400 this season.
Five Hawks have homered. Junior pitcher/shortstop Emma Benson’s three home runs and Bowers’ two have led the way. Emma Benson and Bowers, a Strasburg transfer, each have 15 RBIs.
“(With) the new girls, it’s all about the bond and the bond’s good right now,” Ritter said. “And it has been since we started, I think everybody’s just kind of figured out their thing right now and where we want to be. We don’t want to peak too soon, just pick it up a little bit each week, that’s what I want. And right now that’s kind of the way things are going.”