By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After falling behind early in each of their last five outings, the Winchester Royals tried something different on Tuesday night.
The Royals scored five runs in the first three innings and rode Dustin Ward's strong pitching performance in an 8-2 Valley Baseball League victory over New Market at Bridgeforth Field.
Ward, the hard-luck loser in a recent 1-0 loss at Woodstock, scattered three hits and fanned five over six innings to earn his first win of the summer. The lefty sophomore from Central Arkansas welcomed the early run support.
"It definitely adds to your confidence," said Ward (1-1), who was staked to a 5-0 lead after three innings. "You can start challenging the hitters more and just try to make them put it in play."
Winchester (5-4) jumped on Rebels starting pitcher Blaine Sims with a pair of runs in the first inning on Daniel Scheffler's run-scoring sacrifice fly and Jacob Morley's RBI double down the first-base line. The Royals added two more in the second on Blake Crabtree's RBI single and Cory Spangenberg's run-scoring groundout.
Scheffler's solo homer to left in the third made it a 5-0 game. The Royals, who finished with 13 hits, also got a two-run homer from designated hitter Steve Sabins in the eighth.
"I thought our kids showed good patience at the plate, getting deep into counts," Royals manager John Lowery said. "It's always nice to get on top early."
Spangenberg continued his torrid early season pace by going 4-for-5 with an RBI. The VMI freshman shortstop and reigning VBL Player of the Week entered the game with a league-leading .471 batting average.
"I'm just seeing the ball well right now," said Spangenberg, who has adjusted quite well to the wooden bats of the VBL. "I'm not trying to do too much. I think sometimes switching from aluminum to wood bats gets in people's heads and they think because they can't hit it as hard or as far that they're going to struggle. But if you just hit it where it's pitched, you're going to do OK."
The offensive woes continued for the Rebels (2-6). New Market managed just three hits off Ward and was held hitless over the last three innings by Winchester relievers Matt Faiman and Zach Keen, both making their VBL debuts this summer. The Rebels came into the game batting .215 as a team and have now scored just 22 runs in eight games.
"There are some guys who have had good approaches at the plate and others who are struggling," Rebels manager Corey Paluga said. "It's early, but I don't know how much longer I can keep saying that."
New Market's lone runs came in the fourth. Rusty Smith, who had two of the Rebels' three hits, scored on a wild pitch and Joe Maloney drove in a run with a sacrifice fly.