W L GB Streak Haymarket 27 12 — Won 6 Winchester 22 16 41⁄2 Lost 1 Luray 21 16 5 Lost 1 Harrisonburg 21 17 51⁄2 Won 3 Front Royal 21 18 6 Won 3 Waynesboro 19 19 71⁄2 Lost 1 Covington 18 21 9 Won 1 New Market 17 21 91⁄2 Lost 1 Woodstock 16 21 10 Won 1 Staunton 15 24 12 Lost 5 Rockbridge 13 25 131⁄2 Lost 5
By Greg Brill -- firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- With the way Front Royal had been hitting all game, the last thing Staunton probably expected in the eighth inning was to see the Cardinals drop a few bunts.
And what a good time it was for Front Royal to catch the Braves off guard.
Holding a one-run lead, A.J. Albee and Andy Drexel -- batting eighth and ninth in the order -- each tapped a bunt up the third-base side and reached safely.
The bunt hits by Albee and Drexel loaded the bases for Will Walsh, who laced a two-run single to left to wrap up a 6-3 win for the Cardinals on Tuesday night in Valley Baseball League action at Bing Crosby Stadium.
"They had a pretty good arm out on the mound, so once we got someone on we played a little small-ball and a couple of us were able to get bunts down and it all worked out for us," Albee said. "I guess I got a little bit of luck with mine."
With its sixth win in seven games, Front Royal (21-18) inched closer to securing not only a playoff spot but a home-seed for the opening round of the eight-team postseason field.
"We are playing with a lot of confidence and that's always a good thing towards the end of the season," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "The hitters are starting to settle back in, those that have been up and down."
The Cardinals never trailed, getting another quality start from left-hander Ricky Ott (2-2) and some power from the bats of Matt Holland and James Roche, who each homered in the win.
"The guys are catching a second wind, I really think that's what it is," said Ott, who has received an average of five runs over his last two starts after just three runs per game over his first three starts. "The playoffs are right around the corner and they're smelling it. We're just ready to compete and go out there and do whatever it takes to win a game."
With a week to rest following a win over Winchester at home in his previous start, Ott had command of his pitches throughout and basically made just one mistake the entire game.
Holding a 2-0 lead in the fifth, Ott gave up his first homer of the season, a leadoff shot to left by Brian Collins. From there, Ott retired the next six batters to get back into a groove.
"If we're going to be good it's really going to be on [Ott's] back and [fellow front of the rotation pitcher] Blake Ford," Scarano said. "It's good that we're able to get some wins here and set some things up for the playoffs."
Ott gave up an unearned run in his final inning, the seventh, when a runner scored from third on a two-out, third-strike, passed ball. Ott then got a fly-ball out to end his second longest stint over his five appearances.
In his seven innings, Ott allowed just fours hits and one earned run to Staunton, which entered the game fourth in the VBL in runs scored. Ott walked just two and struck out five in his first appearance against the Braves (15-24).
"Just from watching them [previously], they do it well," Ott said of Staunton. "The thing you have to do on your off-day pitching is you've got to pay attention to hitters. The biggest thing for me to hold them down was to mix in the off-speed, and that's really what you've got to do."
Mike Grace pitched the last two innings, and likewise gave up an unearned run in the eighth, which allowed Staunton to pull to within 4-3.
Grace then pitched a scoreless ninth for his second save.
"That's typical because [Grace] has been throwing well all year," Ott said. "It's a great feeling for me knowing we've got someone that's going to come in and take care of [the game] for me."
A couple of big swings by Holland and Roche provided Ott with all the confidence he needed to attack hitters.
"I feel like the guys gave me a lot of support," Ott said. "It's a lot easier to pitch when you're scoring runs. We've really started to pick up the offense and we're hitting well."
Already with a double to his credit, Holland (2-for-4, two runs) lifted a high fly to left center in the third that kept carrying until it traveled over the wall for a 2-0 lead.
In the fifth, Logan Dodds (2-4) got a pitch up in Roche's wheel house and the right fielder blasted his team-leading eighth homer (and first since July 8) well over the wall in center for a two-run shot and 4-1 lead.
What the Cardinals did in the eighth showcased how they could still execute small ball if needed.
Steve Rogers (2-for-4) got his first double of the season earlier in the game and led off the eighth with a sharp single down the third base line to gain his first multiple-hit game since June 20 at Woodstock.
Albee then rolled a bunt straight up the line that Staunton third baseman Alex Guerra let pass, hoping it would roll foul. It did not, instead bouncing off the bag for a hit.
When Drexel next bunted down to third, Guerra lost a race to the bag with Rogers, leaving everyone safe. Walsh (3-for-5) then had another clutch hit to seal it for the Cardinals.
"The kid on the mound [Al Yevoli] was very good and I didn't like our chances having to swing our way on," Scarano said. "It's pretty standard that you want to bunt late in the game. We were going to keep bunting until they were able to stop us."
The Cardinals finished with 13 hits, also getting two apiece from Roche and Pete Greskoff.