By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK --The 10th-place Woodstock River Bandits faced the first-place Haymarket Senators in Valley League action Sunday night.
Woodstock jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and led 6-1 after the fifth frame.
Haymarket (21-11) then busted things open in the sixth, sending 10 batters to the plate, to score five runs on four hits and a Woodstock error to knot the score at 6-6.
The River Bandits showed plenty of fight in coming back with two in the seventh inning to take an 8-6 lead, but Senators also scratched back for one run in the eighth and two in the ninth to steal a 9-8 win from the River Bandits.
The lead exchanges and close score were typical of the teams' head-to-head games this season, which included a season opener 9-8 win by Haymarket in 12 innings, and a Woodstock 10-9 win on July 1st.
"It was a good game, we just came up a little short," Woodstock manager Donn Foltz said. "I was proud of the kids. They responded when they were down and we haven't always done that this year. I've seen a lot of increased confidence, I just hope that carries through."
Haymarket committed a season-high five errors, but Woodstock hurt it's cause by yielding six walks, two wild pitches, and two passed balls.
Each team got nine hits, a low total, considering the number of runs scored.
Woodstock starting pitcher Michael Manfro was excellent on the mound in the early going, limiting the league's best-hitting team (.296 average) to one run, scored on a wild pitch, on two hits.
But Manfro lost his focus in the sixth, issuing a walk to lead-off batter Zeth Stone, and after striking out Yoandy Barroso, walking Eric Stamets.
With two runners on base, the league's leading hitter, first baseman Rudy Flores (1-for-3, two walks, game-winning run, .423) made the most of his only hit, launching a 2-0 pitch over the right-field fence, in one of the deepest spots in the ball park, for his fourth homer of the year, to narrow the Senators' deficit to 6-4.
Austin Schultz then reached on a rare error by shortstop Derek Vigoa, designated hitter Brant Jones singled to left, chasing Manfro from the mound, with Alex Maffett coming on in relief.
Jimmy Dowdell scratched an infield hit to second, scoring Schultz, followed by a double to right by center fielder Scott Ferrara, knock in Dowell and tie the score at 6-6.
The River Bandits regained the lead in the seventh frame as lead-off batter Karl Johnston was hit by a Jackson Geary pitch.
Center fielder Buddy Sosnoskie laid down a good bunt, to the right of the mound, fielded by Geary, who then tossed the ball between first baseman Flores and second baseman Stone, who were both standing at the bag, for an error, advancing Johnston to second.
The league's third-leading batter, Michael Garza (2-for-4, two doubles, three RBIs, run scored, .402) doubled to left, plating Johnston and Sosnoskie to regain the lead, 8-6.
"They're a good team, they fight, that's why they're in first place," Garza said. "We gotta close out ballgames. Tonight they got one extra hit than we did, and you've gotta give them credit. They stayed in there even when they were down 6-1, stuck it out and came away with the 'W.'"
Maffett issued a lead-off walk to Schultz in the Haymarket eighth, followed by an infield single by Jones.
Schultz advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Jimmy Vahalik's groundout to narrow Woodstock's lead to 8-7.
Geary retired the River Bandits in order in the eighth and Jacob Pelese took the mound for the River Bandits in the top of the ninth.
Pelese issued a one-out walk to Barroso, followed by a double by Stamets, advancing Barroso to third.
Flores' potent bat earned him an intentional walk to load the bases, followed by Schultz hitting into a fielder's choice with Barroso out at the plate, 5-2.
Jones (3-for-5, run scored, two RBIs) worked Pelese for a 3-2 count before lacing a single to center, scoring Stamets with the tying run, and Flores with the go-ahead run to take a 9-8 lead.
Jones had recently returned to the lineup after being out two weeks with a broken nose -- the result of fastball pitch hitting him in the face.
"[We have to scratch and claw] with [Woodstock] every time," Jones said. "They never really give up. We got clutch hits tonight. [In the ninth] I was just trying to put it in play and make contact.
"[Pelese] came back with a 3-2 curve, I put it in play, got a hit, and good things happened."
In the bottom of the ninth, lead-off hitter Vigoa was hit-by-a-pitch, bringing Matt Doyle in to relieve Pelese.
Johnston executed a sacrifice bunt to advance Vigoa to second, then Sosnoskie and Garza grounded out to end the game.
Doyle (1-1) picked up the win in relief. Pelese was charged with the loss (0-1).
Woodstock in now 13-18 with 13 games remaining for opportunities to finish in the top eight and qualify for post-season play.
The River Bandits were unable to follow-up their 12-2 thrashing of the Covington Lumberjacks on Saturday night, setting a season high for runs and total bases with 31. Their 17 hits tied a season high.