By Dennis Atwood -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- The Woodstock River Bandits were looking to halt their three game losing streak when they hosted the Front Royal Cardinals on Sunday evening in Valley League action.
Woodstock pitchers were touched-up for 16 hits in each of their last two games. But the pitching rotation was favorable for Woodstock as Ben Paulus drew the start against the Cardinals' lefty Blake Ford. But the decisive runs were scored against relief pitchers.
With score knotted 3-3, the River Bandits scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth, without getting a hit, to grab a 4-3 victory.
The contest was a tight pitchers' duel through the fifth inning, which ended in a 1-1 tie.
Paulus gave up a single run on six hits through five innings.
In the Front Royal second, Steve Rogers (3-for-4, two runs, .342) led off with an infield single to shortstop. One out later, designated hitter Scott Thornburg doubled with a hot grounder down the left-field line, driving in Rogers.
Woodstock (8-6) got on the board in the fourth when Mike Garza reached on a one-out error and moved to second on Daniel Rockhold's single.
Both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Garza then scored on a groundout by Kenny Burns.
Paulus ran out of steam in the sixth, as Front Royal sent eight batters to the plate to score two runs on three hits, a walk and a hit batsman.
Second baseman AJ Albee's only hit of the night was very timely, a first-pitch bases loaded single to right, driving in Rogers and Matt Holland, who had reached on back-to-back singles, to put the Cardinals up 3-1.
Mike Grace relieved Ford to start the sixth and allowed only one base-runner, a walk to Billy Barber in his first two innings of work.
In the eighth, Karl Johnston (2-for-5, RBI, run) led off for the River Bandits and reached on an error by Albee.
Foster Dunigan then executed a sacrifice bunt, advancing Johnston to second.
Designated hitter Eric Kroll then smacked a liner to center, plating Johnston with Woodstock's second tally. Devon Conley went in as a pinch runner for Kroll and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Ford.
Zach Calhoun came on to relieve Grace and the first batter he faced, Garza reached on an error by third baseman Sean Jamieson, allowing pinch-runner Devon Conley to score the tying run.
Mike Swietanski relieved Paulus in the top of seventh and turned in a stellar stint, tossing no-hit ball for three innings, with three strikeouts and one walk.
"I felt pretty good in the bullpen and the one thing I wanted to do when I came out was just keep the game close and give our team a chance to win," Swietanski said. "Danny [Rockhold] called a really good game. I had command of my curveball and could use it whenever I wanted to, and that set up my fastball.
"[Breaking the three game losing streak] is a big booster for this team. You know, once we go on a little streak, we can go really far."
In the bottom of the ninth, Calhoun gave up a lead-off walk, to Burns.
Burns advanced to second on Zach Tobolowsky's groundout.
Derek Vigoa then hit a ball back to Calhoun, who tried to force Burns at third, but he beat the throw and was safe.
Johnston then hit a first pitch routing grounder to second that looked like a good double play candidate, but Albee threw wide to the shortstop side and Burns scored the winning run for the River Bandits.
"We were just trying to find any way to win today, because it's been rough the last couple of days" Johnston said. "I just wanted to put it into play and work-off a whole week's worth of bad baseball."
Swietanski got the win (1-1) and Grace was tagged with the loss (1-1), both in relief.
Front Royal got nine hits, but committed four errors and left 10 runners on base.
"We've lost a lot of close games, because we haven't been a very good late-inning team, defensively," Front Royal head coach Joe Scarano said. "Defensively, we melted down. We've done that in the past and we've got to find an answer for it. We need to learn how to win close games on the road."