By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- In the top of the second inning during Sunday's Valley League contest between Front Royal and Winchester, the Cardinals had the bases loaded with no outs, and things looked grim for the Royals.
Winchester starting pitcher Hamilton Bennett had other ideas, though, and responded by getting the next three batters out. The Royals capitalized on that missed opportunity and the momentum it brought to win 5-0.
"We had the bases loaded in the second, and we just didn't have the aggressive bats necessary to get any of those guys home," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "I thought the game turned on that. You never know what might have happened if we had gotten a couple of runs home in that situation."
That was just the beginning of a brilliant performance by Bennett on the mound. The Tennessee Wesleyan junior was almost unhittable after that, allowing just two hits and no runs through eight innings.
"I had a lot of fun tonight," Bennett said. "That was my first time to pitch since school let out. I just wanted to come out and work on a couple of things and see how things were working after a few weeks off."
Things were working about as well as could be expected in his first appearance in a Valley League game. After allowing a hit in the second and another in the third, Bennett held the Cardinals hitless for the next five innings. He struck out six and walked two to get the win.
"I'm one of those guys who is going to hit my spots and challenge the batter," Bennett said. "Until they prove that they can hit my stuff, I'm going to keep feeding it to them."
Bennett's performance, particularly in the critical second inning, wasn't lost on Royals manager John Lowery Sr.
"That was obviously an important moment in the game," Lowery said. "This is the time of year when you find out what kind of players you have, and we certainly found out what kind of player Hamilton is. He's a real competitor out there."
Front Royal starting pitcher Greg Van Sickler's performance was solid, but his team's lack of hits and three errors made things difficult for the Shenandoah University junior and Winchester native. He gave up four runs on six hits, and struck out seven during his 6 1/3 innings but took the loss.
Van Sickler's only real mistake came in the second inning when he gave up a double down the right-field line to Jacob Morley that scored Blake Crabtree from first and gave the Royals a 1-0 lead.
"I felt comfortable out there," Van Sickler said. "I just wish that I hadn't given up that double down the first-base line. I really set him up for that one."
Winchester's second run came after some clever base running by Timothy Cross. Morley advanced to first on a two-out single up the middle, and Cross followed with a grounder to first. Cross reached safely after a throwing error by the Cardinals third baseman.
Morley got to third thanks to the error, and Cross took off to second and ended up in a run down. While Front Royal was chasing Cross, Morley was able to score easily from third to put Winchester up 2-0.
"Our coach has told us that he wants us to be aggressive on the base paths," Cross said. "I just decided to go for it, and it worked."
Morley's run and Bennett's pitching gave the Cardinals very little chance for a comeback. The Royals added two runs in the seventh and another in the eighth to leave no doubt.
Cory Spangenbery was the top hitter for Winchester, going 3-for-4 at the plate. Morley was 3-for-3 with an RBI.
"They beat us in all three phases of the game," Scarano said. "They hit the ball better than we did, they out pitched us, and we committed three errors to their none. You're not going to win many games in that kind of situation."