By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Winchester Royals faced an almost impossible task on Sunday.
They trailed 4-0 after a half inning to Rockbridge and were forced to scramble for pitching after scheduled starter Dustin Ward became sick just before the game.
It was a challenge, however, that the Royals were up to, slowly turning the game in their favor thanks to another error-free performance by the defense, some clutch hitting, and a solid showing by the bullpen that all came together for a dramatic come-from-behind 11-7 win over the Rapids.
"Dustin called in and told us that he had strep throat," Winchester manager John Lowery Sr. said. "The guys that we pitched really stepped up their game and gave us a chance to win. Obviously, it was also a great defensive effort, and we got the hits when he needed them too."
Things looked bleak after Rockbridge connected on five hits, including three doubles in the top of the first, and took what seemed like a commanding 4-0 lead. But the Royals never let down.
"We knew that we could score some runs," Lowery said. "We just had to go out there and stop the bleeding and get back into the game."
Starting pitcher Chris Nunn, after getting shelled in the first, did just that for the Royals. He held the Rapids scoreless through his next two innings on the mound and his teammates used the third inning to make an offensive statement of their own.
Winchester batters pounded Rapids starter Chris Zbin in the third, smashing a single, double and two home runs off the Southern Connecticut sophomore.
"We just looked up at that scoreboard and knew we had to start swinging the bat," Royals second baseman Cody Gaskill said. "But we've had the bats to do that all year, and it's good to know that we can pick things up that way."
It was Gaskill's bat, however, that had the biggest impact in picking things up.
Zach Keen got things started in the third with a lead-off single. When Cory Spangenberg advanced to first on an error, it set the stage for Gaskill, who crushed the ball over the left-field fence for a three-run homer that narrowed Rockbridge's lead to just one run.
"When I saw that ball go out, I thought it was about time," Gaskill said. "I've been hitting a lot of doubles, but it was nice to see one go just a little farther than a double."
Daniel Scheffler gave the Royals a 5-4 lead later in the innings with a two-run homer over the left-field fence.
"It wasn't just me," Gaskill said. "We're really deep. We've got several guys that can really hit the ball, and we've got some very good pinch-hitters too. We're a pretty deep squad."
The Rapids recovered and took the lead 6-5 in the fourth on a two-run single by Bryan Henry. That, however, only began a hitting duel between the Valley League rivals that finally ended with the appearance of Winchester reliever Stephen Cooke.
The Indiana University of Pennsylvania freshman shut down the Rapids bats over the final three innings of the game to get the win. He allowed just three hits and no runs through three innings on the mound.
Winchester got the late-inning rally it needed to pull away in the seventh. Colby Gratton had the key hit this time, scoring Gaskill and Raymond Church with a single to shallow right that fell perfectly between the first and second basemen and the right fielder. Gratton's hit and an RBI single by Steve Sabins put the Royals up for good.
Adam Holland took the loss for Rockbridge, giving up five runs on six hits through 3.1 innings on the mound.
"We hope that Dustin can get some rest and be back with us soon," Lowery said. "He's one of the main guys on the mound. But tonight was a case of our guys picking each other up, and responding. They really got the job done."