BERRYVILLE – When Central and Clarke County clashed for the first time on April 25, it was the Falcons who walked away with a five-run victory. In Friday’s rematch, and with second place in the Bull Run District race on the line, Clarke County found redemption.
The Eagles – who had been shutout by Central in the first meeting – erupted for five runs in the first inning on Friday afternoon, and senior starting pitcher Megan Hicks handled the rest, holding the visiting Falcons to just two hits in a 7-2 win.
Clarke County seized second place from the Falcons with the victory, and needs only to beat George Mason – which is winless in the Bull Run this spring – in next Tuesday’s regular-season finale to lock up the second seed in the upcoming district tournament.
“We needed that win,” said Hicks, who went the distance in the circle to help her team to a 13-6 record overall and 6-3 in the district. “… We were getting back at them for the first one because I think we didn’t play to the best of our ability in that game. But it was nice to win this game.”
Aside from a few baserunning mistakes and a pair of errors that helped score both of Central’s runs, the Eagles were sharp in the rematch. In addition to Hicks’ pitching performance, Clarke County finished with 10 hits – including three for extra bases – and four hits helped spot Clarke County a 5-0 lead after one inning.
Eagles head coach Susan Grubbs said Clarke County’s success against Falcons starter Kristina Stead – who blanked the Eagles the first time around – was the result of handling outside pitches more effectively and going up to the plate with a plan.
Seven of Clarke County’s 10 hits went to the opposite field.
“I think we came out on fire, very disciplined at the plate,” said Grubbs, whose team scored all five of its first-inning runs with two outs. “We worked really hard, because last time Kristina had a really good outing against us. We worked really hard to make sure that we were able to plate some runs, and those early runs made a big difference.”
Seniors Jade Feltner and Chelsea Trenary got things rolling for Clarke in the bottom of the first with back-to-back one-out singles, and a walk to Whitney Grubbs two batters later loaded the bases with two outs.
Kiley Ramey, a sophomore, drove in two runs with a looping single into shallow center, and her twin sister, Dana, followed with a two-RBI triple to right-center two pitches later. The first of four Central errors in the game allowed a fifth run to score before Stead and the Falcons finally escaped the inning.
“Kristina uncharacteristically got nicked a little bit. It was kind of like somebody cutting themselves with a razor,” Falcons head coach Scott Mongold said of the first inning. “I don’t know that they really actually hit a ball hard. I mean, they just hit balls where we weren’t. Take that first inning away and it’s 2-2 softball. I was really happy with the way that we didn’t get down upon ourselves.”
The early run support was plenty for Hicks, who retired the first nine batters she faced before giving up a bunt single to Central’s Chloee Burton to lead off the fourth inning.
An error on a sacrifice bunt attempt allowed Burton to score in the frame, and a second Clarke County error in the top of the seventh allowed Natalie Broy to reach and later score on Ivy Mongold’s RBI single.
Hicks didn’t walk a batter and struck out eight in the win. Both runs scored against her were unearned.
“My screwball was working pretty well today, and so was my rise,” the senior right-hander said. “But my defense definitely helped me when they got those couple balls out there.”
Clarke County added two more runs to its lead in the fifth inning, starting first when Whitney Grubbs singled to drive in Alyssa Hoggatt, who had led off the frame with a double. A bizarre sequence later in the inning led to the Eagles’ seventh run of the contest.
With the bases loaded and nobody out, Grubbs was tagged out after getting hung up in a rundown between third and home following a pitch in the dirt. Kiley Ramey, who was slow returning to second base on the play, then found herself in another rundown but eventually scored on a two-base throwing error.
Stead, who worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the top of the second inning, tossed all six innings for Central in the loss and was charged with five earned runs. She allowed just three hits over the final four innings and finished with two walks (one intentional) and six strikeouts.
“She did (settle in), and she’s normally the other way. She’s normally, you’re going out in the fifth, sixth inning and getting her,” Mongold said. “… But big game, and I don’t know if it was nerves. Hats off to Clarke. They came out and they swung the bats well in the first inning and they put pressure on us to make plays, and we didn’t do it.”
Feltner, Trenary and Hoggatt – Clarke’s two, three and four hitters – each had two hits to lead the Eagles. Seven Clarke County starters had at least one hit, and eight Eagles reached base safely in the win.
“We can’t have any letdowns,” Susan Grubbs said of next Tuesday’s regular season finale at Strasburg and the upcoming Bull Run District tournament that starts on May 21. “It’s important right now to come out and practice hard on Monday, and then we have senior day, all the little hoopla on Tuesday.
“They’ve put themselves in a good position,” she added of her team. “I always ask them to play their best ball in May, and even though we had a loss last week at Madison, I thought we played well. We’ve done pretty well in May so far. I wanna play ‘til June.”
Central closes out its regular season with a game at Strasburg on Tuesday night.