By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
WOODSTOCK -- The Woodstock River Bandits were hoping to keep their winning percentage above .500 when they hosted the Staunton Braves in Valley League action Sunday night.
Woodstock jumped out to a 5-0 lead through four innings, but Staunton rallied for a 9-5 victory.
River Bandits starting pitcher, right-hander Ben Pope, held Staunton to two singles, struck out three and issued a solo walk in the first four innings.
Woodstock roughed up Staunton starter Joe Calogero for two runs on three hits in the second and three runs on three hits in the third.
Third baseman Michael Garza led off the second with a first-pitch single to left and stole second base.
With one out, left fielder Devon Conley singled left, scoring Garza.
After the second out, shortstop Derek Vigoa also singled to left, knocking in Conley, then was caught stealing second to end the inning.
Right fielder Karl Johnston led off the Woodstock third with a walk, followed by successive singles to center by Buddy Sosnoskie and Billy Barber to load the bases.
Chris Cowell grounded into a 6-4-3 double play with Johnston scoring Woodstock's third run.
Sosnoskie, who had advanced to third, scored on a wild pitch, followed by Garza's second single.
Garza stole second and third, then scored the fifth, and last, Woodstock run on another wild pitch by Calogero.
Lefty Al Yevoli (High Point) relieved Calogero and finished out the game with 6 1/3 shutout innings, giving up three hits, striking out five, and giving up two walks to pick up his first decision (1-0).
"In all honesty, I had nothing working at first, but I found a way to get it going," Yevoli said. "Luckily, my defense made a lot of plays behind me and they picked me up. Then they put up runs, which got me more into a comfort level, which gave me the confidence to use all my pitches and get it done."
Then the Braves went on the warpath in the fifth frame, sending 10 batters to the plate, scoring seven runs on five hits, a walk, a hit batsman, and an error.
Lefty Joshua White relieved Pope with two outs and four runs already across the plate. Pope surrendered six runs on six hits and was charged with the loss (0-2)
Stauton shortstop Stephen Branca (Central Florida) greeted White's 1-1 pitch with a three-run homer, his first of year, blasted well over the fence in left-center. The homer scored Todd Brazeal, who reached on an infield hit, and Josh Bageby, who walked, to put the Braves up 7-5.
Branca (2-for-5, HR, five RBIs) also accounted for Staunton's last two runs with a two-out, two-RBI single in the ninth, to ice the Braves' victory.
"It felt great, finally," Branca said. "I've been squaring up balls, and now their falling in, finally. But, I have to say our pitching was great. Al [Yevoli] came in and did his job. That's what kept us in the ball game and he gave us a chance to win, and that's all we needed."
A bright spot for Woodstock is Garza.
His 3-for-4 performance increased his league-leading batting average from .446 to .467. He is also tied for first place with three triples.
He also played for Woodstock last year and hit .263 (35-for-133), with five doubles, no triples, two homers and 17 RBIs.
"I think [losing 35 pounds and picking up bat speed] really worked for me," Garza said. "I went back after last season, in late summer, and the fall, got in better shape, hit the weight room and started running. I think it helps to play every day and get in better shape.
"The pitchers in this league are tough. They have good stuff, so I try to jump on the early pitches if I can. If you get down 0-1, or 0-2, you're at their mercy."