By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- It didn't take much -- just some timely hitting, an efficient starting pitcher, and a few sips of luck -- but the New Market Rebels managed to upend top-ranked Haymarket, 4-3, on Wednesday at Rebel Park.
The win gives New Market its first winning streak of the season, all of two games, and hands Haymarket its first losing streak of the season. It is also at least the second time this season the Rebels have knocked off a team with the best batting average in the Valley Baseball League.
Earlier this season New Market shut out Rockbridge, which at the time led the league with a .310 average. Going into Wednesday night, Haymarket (.303 average) was the only team hitting better than .300.
So it was perhaps fitting that when Haymarket couldn't score in the top of the ninth with a runner in scoring position, it was New Market which managed the feat in the bottom of the inning.
It was also fitting that it was Kenny Mickens and Jason Coker, the Rebels' No. 1 and No. 2 hitters, respectively, who hadn't a hit to speak of going into New Market's final breath of an inning, whose hits were most punctual.
Mickens led off the inning with his first hit, a single into the center-field gap. Coker followed with his first hit, a double down the third-base line.
Rather than risk an out and a fantastic scoring chance, Mickens held up at third. He scored two batters later when Brent Mikionis belted a sacrifice fly to right field.
"Kenny's had a lot of success -- going back to last year, he hit above .300 in the league," New Market coach Corey Paluga said, "and going into the top of the ninth, you have a lot of confidence in him, and that's why you put him in the leadoff role -- you have a lot of confidence putting a guy there."
Following the win, the Rebels congregated in shallow left field and formed a circle, each arm locked around a shoulder. The circle swayed back and forth in celebration, like the tide of an ocean.
And New Market surely had more to celebrate than the win, such as the performance of starting pitcher Blaine Sims, who out-dueled Haymarket starter Salvatore Lisante.
Lisante had scorched the Rebels for nine strikeouts in the teams' last meeting, but had none Wednesday night. Sims fanned three batters, gave up four hits and only one run. His no decision will at least shrink his once bloated ERA of 7.50 to a more acceptable size.
"Going back to his first outing, he came in and had a long layoff from his spring season, [like] a lot of the pitchers had," Paluga said. "So it's getting these guys back into condition, getting some pitching style like they were come the spring season for their respective schools.
"He did ... I mean, you look at his ERA and he's struggled, but he has an idea of what to do up there. He's not just throwing, he's actually pitching."