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Cardinals shut down Covington for victory

By Greg Brill - sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Blake Ford had confidence that he could come out with a better pitching start than last time, and the tall right-hander had just as much trust that his defense would make plays behind him.

Throw in a well-rounded offensive attack and there was no way Ford was about to be stuck with a loss or the dreaded "no-decision."

Ford kept a lid on Covington batters throughout Thursday night, going the distance to pitch the staff's first complete-game shutout in a dominant 9-0 Valley Baseball League win at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Last month, Greg Van Sickler and Oren Rasowsky (vs. Rockbridge) and Van Sickler and Chris Pena (vs. Luray) combined for shutout victories, also at home.

"It felt good," Ford said. "It was just one of the those rare nights where you have everything working for you. The guys were making plays. I don't think they had an error all night. I had maybe two or three strikeouts."

Ford had that nine-run lead before he had to go back out for the sixth, as the Cardinals got at least one hit from all but one starter and won the season series (3-1) from eighth-place Covington.

"It definitely was one of the best all-around games we've played defensively -- and the bats came alive tonight," said outfielder Drew Gadaire, who went 2-for-4, scored three runs and drove in two. "I think there was some urgency, but we did a good job to stay relaxed. We played well."

The Cardinals (18-17) have now won their last three (giving up a combined four runs) after losing a season-worst seven in a row.

"We faced a lot of adversity for seven games," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "When you lose like that in a [44]-game season it can either break a team or it can serve to build a team. We're hoping it will make us stronger.

"Nobody wants to be battling for the seventh or eighth [seed] when the playoffs come. Because what it does is you've got to put a lot of emphasis in setting up your [pitching] rotation to make sure you get in. We have games like tonight where you're able to save your bullpen.

"If you can get two or three games over .500, you can kind of line yourself up for the playoffs a little bit, in terms of how you use your bullpen, how you stack your starters. But if you're battling in the eighth position, you're probably going to the bullpen a lot and taxing your pitching staff."

Allowing just four hits -- and just one over his final five innings -- Ford (2-2) pitched smoothly from inning to inning and was locating his pitches just as well in the ninth as he was from the early innings.

In his previous start, on July 15 in a loss to Waynesboro, Ford (42⁄3 innings) had his shortest outing in five starts to that point. Ford gave up eight runs, though just one was earned.

Making sure he did not give up many free passes to the Lumberjacks, Ford (92 pitches) walked just two and let his infielders, outfielders and new catcher make plenty of dazzling plays on the way to a clean game in the field for the team.

Ford was able to force 14 ground-ball outs, and the final one recorded in the game was a flip from shortstop Sean Jamieson over to A. J. Albee at the second-base bag for a force out.

Ford had not pitched against Covington before Thursday.

"I studied them when we went to their place and Dan [Smith] helped me out, since he pitched against them twice [two wins]," Ford said. "He kind of gave me a good idea of what they like to do and that helps out a lot."

Ford even got a pickoff of Sherman Johnson, who had led off the fourth with a single.

"He did a good job -- they didn't really touch him all game," Gadaire said.

Well after the game was safely in hand, the Cardinals were still playing with purpose on defense.

Covington (16-19) had its first two batters reach safely in the seventh and the Lumberjacks looked to have a third-straight baserunner when Mike Garcia lifted a fly ball to the left-center gap. But Gadaire ranged well and made a diving catch for the first out.

Casey Selsor then hit a sinking pop fly behind the third-base bag that Steve Rogers trailed back and caught with an over-the-shoulder grab in foul territory. The third out came when Ben Lenda, signed just last week, gunned out Issac Wenrich trying to steal second.

The Cardinals pushed across a run in the first when James Roche drove in Gadaire with a double. Back-to-back three-run innings from there turned the game into a lopsided affair.

Covington starter Robby Scott (0-3) struggled throughout and had his stint ended without getting an out in the fourth.

Back-to-back innings, in the third and fourth, respectively, saw Front Royal send eight batters to the plate and score three each frame.

Five straight batters reached with two outs in the third. A walk, single and walk loaded the bases for Jamieson, who bounced a two-strike single up the middle for two RBIs.

Albee then doubled off the wall in left for a 3-0 lead.

An inning later, Scott got in trouble right away by giving up singles to Lenda, Will Walsh, and Gadaire (RBI). A walk to Roche followed, and Scott was done after giving up eight hits and five walks for his outing.

Cassidy McDaniel came in and two of the runners he inherited scored, with Gadaire scoring on Pete Greskoff's fielder's choice grounder and Roche coming across on another single by Jamieson.

In the fifth, McDaniel gave up three doubles and the Cardinals scored their final two runs. Lenda led off the inning with a two-base hit and Gadaire and Roche each drove in runs with doubles.

Up and down the lineup, Front Royal produced. The Cardinals had 13 hits. Gadaire, Roche, Albee, and Jamieson all had two apiece.

Putting up runs was something that was missing when the Cardinals were losing. During its seven-game slide, Front Royal averaged just over three runs a game.

"Different people are chipping in," Scarano said. "Drew Gadaire is swinging it well again, Sean Jamieson had some two-out hits. The hitters did well with two outs, I think we had our best defensive team out there. And when we pitch like [Ford did], we're going to win games."

Now that the Cardinals have seemed to swing back in the right direction, Ford believes others in the pitching rotation can continue to have the same success he enjoyed on Thursday night.

"We just brought in two new guys [to pitch] and I still believe we're at the top of the league in ERA," Ford said. "So, yeah, we still have the best staff in the league, in my mind."


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