By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Just an inning before, Strasburg public address announcer Jay Neal had played a tune from "The Natural" soundtrack.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning on Tuesday night, Strasburg's Derek Buckley took on the role of Roy Hobbs.
Perhaps there wasn't any shattered lights, like the ones the fictional Hobbs hit with his homer in the 1984 flick, but Buckley's walk-off grand slam did the trick quite well to lift the Rams to an 8-4 Bull Run District win over Manassas Park at First Bank Park.
"You just try to get a run in there -- whatever works," Buckley said. "But if it had to happen like that, it felt pretty good."
Buckley's first-ever game-ending homer and first slam of the season was a no-doubter that carried far over the left-field fence to cap a rally that saw Strasburg (13-3, 5-1 Bull Run) score four runs in the sixth to tie and four more in the seventh to win it on one swing of Buckley's bat.
"We really would have settled for a sacrifice fly," Strasburg coach Jeff Smoot said. "Derek's hit kind of speaks for itself."
Zach Cover had been standing on third, representing the winning run, when Buckley left the park.
"That ball didn't stand a chance," Cover said. "I don't know, that ball still might be going, I'm not sure. He hit that one pretty hard, I have to say."
The way the Rams were able to put themselves in position to win proved their fortitude to bounce back after a couple miserable innings in the field.
"What we did do was play very well the last few innings," Smoot said.
The ability to come back and win left the Rams still one game back of district-leader George Mason, who beat Clarke County on Tuesday. The Rams host the Mustangs next Tuesday.
"It was a big win," Buckley said. "Our guys coming back and battling throughout the game, 0-2 counts, and hitting the ball to right field. That's what we try to do and what we work on every day. It showed up well late today."
Cover got the start and did most everything right, giving up just one earned run and striking out 13. Yet, the junior right-hander trailed 4-0 heading to the bottom of the sixth. Four Strasburg errors paved the way for Manassas Park (7-3, 3-3) to score one run in the first, one in the fourth, and two in the fifth.
"I just tried to keep throwing strikes and keeping us close until our bats got going in the end," said Cover, who made 108 pitches in his complete-game effort. "We kept it close and got it done in the end."
The Rams did hang tough, finally getting to Manassas Park starter Donovan Johnson in the sixth. Johnson held the Rams to five hits in five scoreless inning to begin the game, but the right-hander got knocked out after giving up four straight hits to begin the Strasburg sixth.
"[Johnson] could locate on both sides of the plate," said Buckley, who struck out and flied out in his first two plate appearances. "His fastball was here [in the zone], it was here. You couldn't spot any better than he did early in the game. He just missed a few spots late."
Todd Dean (2-for-3, two runs scored) had a sharp single to right leading off the sixth and Sheldon Stickley (2-for-3, two runs scored) grounded a single to left to put Dean on third. Buckley (2-for-4, two runs scored, five RBIs) then doubled into the left-field corner to score Dean, and Klay Fogle (2-for-3, two RBIs) ended Johnson's stint with a two-run single to right to narrow Manassas Park's lead to 4-3.
The Cougars then brought ace Nate Hoffa and his high 80s fastball on to pitch. The Rams beat Hoffa on Friday, and were still confident enough when facing the senior for a second time in less than a week.
Michael Reynolds greeted Hoffa with a single to right to advance Fogle to third. One out later, Mitchell Wilson twice failed to get a bunt down to drive in pinch-runner Tanner Orndorff. But on a two-strike pitch, Wilson grounded sharply to first to get the RBI to tie the game at 4-4.
After Cover retired Manassas Park in order for the second straight inning, the Rams went to work on winning the game.
"I thought [Cover] was solid pretty much throughout the game," Smoot said. "I do think he got better in the end."
Cover led off with a routine grounder to second. Joey Gaovette fielded cleanly, but his throw to first got by Jimmy Edwards and went into the dugout for a two-base error. Cover then stole third when the Cougars had their defense up for the bunt and did not have their shortstop back up to cover third.
"When [Wilson] turned [to bunt], the third baseman busted in and I knew I could beat him to [third]," Cover said. "I thought I could beat the shortstop, too. I just saw an opportunity."
Hoffa drilled Dean in the back with a pitch and the Cougars elected to intentionally walk Stickley to load the bases.
Hoffa seemed a bit nervous, when his first two pitches went wild (Buckley swung at the first one) and got by Jewell. However, Cover held his ground at third and Buckley soon ended the game with his round-tripper.