CENTRAL BALL

Central's Alicia Ball swings at a pitch during a softball game against Skyline last week.

WOODSTOCK — Central softball coach Scott Mongold, as well as some opposing coaches in the Class 3 Northwestern District, feel the Falcons have some of the best pitching in the district this spring with senior Alicia Ball and sophomore Trynda Mantz splitting time in the circle. Unfortunately for Central, the bats haven’t been able to back up that duo.

Heading into Wednesday’s home game against Brentsville, the Falcons are averaging 5.9 runs per game through nine contests, a number that takes a further dive if you exclude Central’s two victories over winless Manassas Park. Exclude the 30 runs scored against the Cougars, and Central is averaging a meager 3.3 runs in its other seven contests.

The Falcons’ inability to produce runs has loomed large in losses this spring and is a big reason Central is just 3-6 with three regular-season games left. Though two of Central’s losses have come by 10 runs or more, the other four have been by margins of four runs or fewer. The Falcons, for the most part, have played in close games against the best the district has to offer and yet so far have only been able to best the two teams — Manassas Park and George Mason — dwelling at the bottom of the league standings.

“I have all the confidence in the world that we can hit the ball,” Mongold said after Central’s 12-2 loss to Skyline last week, “because you come out here in batting practice and you’re picking up as many balls on the other side of the fence as you do on this side of the fence. For some reason it’s just not transferring into games.”

The problem, Mongold said, is that the Falcons aren’t being aggressive enough at the plate. If and when that issue gets resolved, he added, “that opens some doors.”

“At the end of the day, we’re looking at good pitches and swinging at bad,” Mongold said. “(Skyline pitcher Peyton Kaufman) threw a first-pitch fastball to every batter (in last Thursday’s game). It never wavered. … Now, some of them were a little outside, some of them were a little up, one or two might have hit the ground, but as a hitter, if you’re in your second time through the order and she’s thrown first-pitch fastballs, you’ve got to make an adjustment and look for first-pitch fastball.”

Even with their struggles at the plate, the Falcons could find their way into the Region 3B playoffs in a couple of weeks, as 11 teams are vying for the eight regional tournament spots this spring, according to Mongold. Manassas Park doesn’t appear to be a threat for a playoff spot, Mason — which Central beat 4-0 on May 14 and will host the Falcons in the season finale next week — has only beaten Manassas Park and first-year program Lightridge has been getting battered by fellow Loudoun County competition all spring.

“With the pitching that we have, we just need a seat at the table,” Mongold said. “That’s all we’re looking for.”

SOLID SKYLINE DEBUT: Kaufman, a sophomore right-hander, has continued to improve in the pitcher’s circle for Skyline this spring and entered Tuesday’s home game against William Monroe with a 5-1 record and a 2.43 ERA in nine starts this spring.

Kaufman struggled in her varsity debut against Brentsville on April 26, allowing six runs (four earned) on two hits and three walks in just one inning pitched, but rebounded to allow just four runs over her next five starts spanning 30 innings. After again faltering against Brentsville (six earned runs, five walks in three innings) on May 18, Kaufman allowed just two runs in her two starts last week.

Struggles against Brentsville aside (the Tigers have been piling up runs against everyone of late), Kaufman had allowed just six earned runs in 42 innings pitched in the other seven games entering Tuesday and for the season had posted 61 strikeouts in 46 innings. Entering the week, Kaufman had thrown no-hitters against Mason (10 strikeouts in six innings in a game ended early by the mercy rule) and Monroe (14 strikeouts in seven innings) this season.

The sophomore has been susceptible to walks — she dealt 31 of them through the first nine games — but has shown a knack for limiting the damage. Against Central last week, the Falcons put a runner on base in each inning yet managed just two runs.

Hawks coach John Ritter said after that win that Kaufman “just keeps getting better.”

“That’s her biggest improvement because she’s getting an opportunity to throw the ball,” Ritter said. “She has done very well pitching herself (out of situations with runners on). She doesn’t let the walks bother her, which you can’t. As far as that goes, she’s done great with that. She seems to buckle down and get better.”

WILDCAT BATS: Warren County (6-3 entering Tuesday’s home game against Brentsville) hit a lull offensively after scoring 60 runs during a 5-0 start, but three Wildcats still entered the week batting .400 or better this season.

Sophomore Atori Lane has been the ideal leadoff hitter, posting a .560 batting average (14-for-25) and an outstanding .694 on-base percentage while stealing 18 bases and scoring 18 runs in the first nine games.

Lane has been setting the table for the big bats hitting behind her, and junior Karleigh Crabill entered Tuesday batting .423 (11-for-26) with three home runs and 10 RBIs while senior Hailey Stiltner was batting .400 (12-for-30) with two homers and a team-high 12 RBIs.

Lane, Stiltner (14 runs) and Crabill (12) led Warren County in runs scored entering the week.

KEY STRETCH: Strasburg began the week ranked sixth in the latest Region 2B power-point rankings released on Monday and 1.8 points back of the fourth and final regional playoff spot with four games left in the regular season.

The Rams (4-4 heading into the week) entered a key stretch of games starting with Tuesday’s road game at East Rockingham, which was 1.2 points ahead of Strasburg and in fifth place in the regional rankings. After that, the Rams head to No. 3 Clarke County on Wednesday before closing the season with home games against Rappahannock County and Madison County (seventh in Region 2B rankings).

Strasburg hung with Clarke County in their first meeting on May 11 before giving up seven total runs in the sixth and seventh innings of a 12-4 loss, and the Rams fell to Rappahannock County 6-1 in their season opener back on April 27. Strasburg edged Madison 4-2 last week in their first meeting.

Contact Brad Fauber at bfauber@nvdaily.com