By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
NEW MARKET -- Any doubts regarding the New Market Rebels' ability to follow up their 14-4 thrashing of the Winchester Royals on Thursday night were resoundingly dispelled as the Rebels lashed 11 hits and got a complete-game performance from pitcher Blaine Sims in topping the Luray Wranglers, 8-1, in Valley League action Friday night.
The Wranglers entered the game a half-game out of first place and beat the Rebels in both ends of home-away split twin bill (7-0, 9-1) on June 27.
Both teams were on hot streaks, going 7-3 in their last 10 games.
The two lefty starters fought a tight pitchers' duel through the fourth inning, with Sims tossing a one-hit shutout, expending 51 pitches, and Luray starter Kevin Carlow matching that one-hit effort, yielding one run on 44 pitches.
New Market was first on the scoreboard in the third inning as Joe Maloney drew a leadoff walk, followed by a single to right by Kevin Brown, advancing Maloney to third. Trey Karlen hit into a fielder's choice, getting Brown out at second, but earning an RBI as Maloney crossed the plate.
Luray (17-12) responded in the fifth inning when second baseman Michael Broad hit a 1-1 pitch for a rainbow shot far over the center-field fence for his first round-tripper of the season. It turned out to the Wranglers' only run of the night.
Sims prevailed, going the distance and giving up one run on five hits, six strikeouts, and one hit batsman. Sims gave only one free pass, and that came with two out in the ninth inning in his 101-pitch performance, to improve his record to 3-1. His slider broke big and his fastball had plenty of zip.
"It's a great feeling," Sims said. "I just wanted to see our team win, and I've been wanting to beat these guys since I got here, so I feel like I gave us a good opportunity and I couldn't have done it without my defense. I just used what's behind me and we [won]."
The Rebels (13-17) responded loud and long in the bottom of fifth, sending eight batters to the plate to score four runs on four hits, aided by a walk. Third baseman Kevin Brown (2-for-4, two RBIs, one run) opened up the scoring with a double over the first-base bag, scoring Dan Schafferman and Francisco Ramirez.
"At that point, there was a lot of pitches in the count and I was just working [Carlow]," Kevin Brown said. "I got out front on a few off-speed and he came back with a fastball and I was pretty geared up for it. It certainly helps when you have a guy on the mound who can go that long and pitch that well. You get a lot more confidence and feel a little less pressure at the plate.
"After last night, we feel a lot more confident with the bat."
With two outs, shortstop Jason Coker hit a timely single to right, plating Maloney and Kevin Brown, who both had reached on singles.
The rally drove Carlow from the mound as he was relieved by Matt Laney, then three other relievers. Carlow (2-2) was charged with the loss.
Maloney, Ramirez and Coker joined Kevin Brown in the two-hits club.
"We're emphasizing plate discipline," Rebels hitting coach Phillip Betterly said. "Guys were swinging as pitches in the dirt, just swinging at bad pitches earlier in the season ... maybe they were trying to do too much. Now we've got 'em more relaxed, just seeing the ball, hitting the ball and taking a good two-strike approach. That's the biggest thing, and the guys are getting more confidence, knowing they belong here."
In Thursday night's 14-4 blowout of top-spot contender Winchester, the Rebels set, or tied, five team and six individual season highs, including runs, 18 hits, four home runs and 31 total bases. Jordan Owen set individual season highs for hits (five), RBIs (six), home runs (two, a grand slam and a two-run shot), and total bases (11).
"The kids came out tonight, they wanted to play and Blaine threw a great game," said Rebels acting manager John Combs, who filled in because New Market manager Corey Paluga was out of town. "It's definitely the right time to be playing well. We're looking to get to that eighth spot [postseason eligible] and build on that -- go from there.
"When you get in the playoffs, anything can happen."
In the 2009 postseason, the fifth and eighth seeds won out over the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds.
"[Sims] threw well, but we didn't do anything particularly well at the plate," Wranglers manager Mike Bocock said. "They pitched well and played good defense and we didn't hit. We didn't bring any energy to the field tonight, and you do that, you're just not going to win anything.
"Our pitchers are getting too deep in the counts and [the batters] are just sitting on it. We didn't come to win a baseball game tonight, and New Market did."