By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Now in his second season in the Valley Baseball League, Front Royal outfielder James Roche knows a thing or two about coming up with a clutch hit.
In 2009, Roche finished fourth in the league with his nine homers, and his return to the Cardinals gives the team a veteran bat they know can be counted on.
With Front Royal in a two-game slump, Roche provided plenty of pop against Harrisonburg on Thursday night. Roche drove his first homer of the season to right leading off the fourth inning, then had another big hit ready in the ninth -- a double into the netting in center to plate Drew Gadaire for a walk-off, 4-3 win at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"We've been coming out here early and working our butts off, just trying to get the bats going," said Roche, who went 4-for-4 officially with two RBIs in the win. "We just had to have an aggressive approach at the bat, and it came through for us tonight.
"I was just trying to hit the ball hard somewhere [in the ninth]. I got down 0-2 [in the count] and I just wanted to get my bat on it at that point."
It was a refreshing turnaround for Front Royal (3-2), which managed a combined one run on seven hits in a pair of losses to Winchester and Woodstock in its previous two games.
"It's just huge, especially coming off the last two games scoring one run and hitting, like, three balls hard," Gadaire said. "Hopefully after this we can get a little win streak going."
Cardinals manager Joe Scarano said he brought his squad out a bit earlier on Thursday for more hitting, and several players took advantage to retain their swing from earlier games.
Front Royal broke out for a season-best 12 hits, getting hits from seven different players.
"It was a win we had to have," Scarano said. "We came out today early and we really hit a lot. We hit in the cages and we took ground balls on the field. We had really set our minds to development. I know it's in there with some of these hitters, we just haven't seen it [completely] yet. You can see some of the hitters are getting it going now. That's a good thing."
Battling a 3-for-16 slump, Gadaire singled in each of his first two at-bats against the Turks. His second hit was quality, rapping a first-pitch single the opposite way to right to score Kevin Brashears with the Cardinals' first run in the third. Brashears had started the rally with an infield hit and stole second before scoring on Gadaire's two-out hit.
In the ninth, Gadaire (3-for-5, RBI) did a good job to get back on base. Leading off, Gadaire hit a one-hop grounder that forced second baseman Josh Band to rush up on the ball and bobble it for an error. A wild pitch and Greg Van Sickler's ground out moved Gadaire to third. After the second out was recorded, Gadaire got across on Roche's hit.
"You could just tell [Roche] was in a zone tonight," Gadaire said. "He came up big."
Throughout the game, Front Royal had to have plenty of players step up to keep competing with Harrisonburg (1-4).
The Turks scored three runs off Front Royal starter Davey Hackett, who battled throughout his five innings. Hackett walked five, but he allowed just three runs, mainly due to a couple of outstanding plays from shortstop Sean Jamieson, who saved the Cardinals at least two runs with his slick plays in the hole and up the middle.
When Scarano handed the ball over to Ricky Ott to begin the sixth, the left-hander was nothing short of outstanding. Ott allowed just one hit in his three innings, no walks, and struck out six.
Ott's pitching kept the Cardinals in the game until they could receive a couple more clutch hits.
It was a game for Pete Greskoff to get his confidence back. Pinch-hitting to begin the Front Royal eighth, Greskoff deposited a 2-1 pitch from Emilo Pagan far over the left-field wall to tie the game at 3-3.
"The biggest play of the game was definitely Pete Greskoff's home run," Scarano said. "It's tough to pinch-hit, but he definitely showed a lot about his character too, because he knows he really played poorly the [game] before, and he felt like he let his teammates down. So for him to get that home run not only shows me he's ready to play, but that he [also] will pitch in and that he will be a guy counted on down the road."
That Greskoff was coming off an 0-for-2 (two strikeouts), four-error game on Tuesday in the loss to Woodstock made all in the Front Royal dugout happy for the Brown University third baseman.
"Before the game, he was telling me about how he a couple of times at Brown got pinch-hit at-bats hoping he would hit a home run, but he could never do it," Gadaire said. "He gets it today and gets it done."
Justin Malone pitched a scoreless ninth and got credit for the win.