By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- The delivery of a side-arm pitcher often is hard to pick up.
Many a pitch comes from an angle that sweeps low, whips in on hitters, and results in soft ground-ball outs or strikeouts.
Harrisonburg righty Stephen Styck came in to earn his second save (and fourth overall) against Front Royal on Wednesday night, coming to the rescue in a 5-2 Valley Baseball League win for the Turks at Bing Crosby Stadium with 2 1/3 scoreless innings of relief.
"He has pretty good velocity for a side-arm guy," Front Royal outfielder Drew Gadaire said of Styck, who also closed out the Cardinals in a 5-4 Harrisonburg win on June 23. "He has a little Frisbee curve that moves a little more than you expect it to."
The Cardinals (15-11) lost a share of first place in the VBL and even dropped into fourth place behind Haymarket, Luray, and Harrisonburg (15-10) after their first loss in a week. A season-best four-game win streak and mark of five games over .500 each went by the wayside, largely because Front Royal again could not give Ricky Ott (0-2) run support.
Ott pitched into the sixth inning for a third straight start and had just one bad frame -- the fourth, when the Turks put four runs across to take a 4-1 lead.
Trailing 1-0, Harrisonburg got its first two batters aboard before Shaun Cooper laced an RBI double to center to tie the game. Brett Armour followed with his own two-base hit, a two-run rip down the left-field line for the lead. A fourth run scored on a two-out, two-strike wild pitch.
"[Harrisonburg] surprised me with the four runs -- it happened fast," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "Ricky's an all-star and he's been pitching like one. There's been times all year where he's dominated. He was really good for the first three innings and had to slow down a little bit due to the heat and pitch count.
"They got to him a bit. Yeah, I feel for him. We haven't been able to put the runs up for him [two runs per in Ott's starts]. We weren't able to put up runs for him against Haymarket [in a 3-0 loss June 30] and we weren't able to put up runs for him tonight."
Ott was selected to the VBL North Division All-Star team earlier in the day, and will be joined by fellow pitchers Frank Zier and Mike Grace, along with outfielders James Roche, Will Walsh, and shortstop Sean Jamieson to represent Front Royal for Sunday's game in Harrisonburg.
Overall, Ott went 5 1/3 innings before Zach Calhoon came on to have his best relief effort in eight appearances. Calhoon (four strikeouts) retired 10 straight before giving up a two-out walk to a pinch-hitter in the ninth. Chris Pena gave up a run-scoring double to the first batter he faced to allow the Turks a little more cushion.
If only the Cardinals could have hit more in the clutch. Front Royal mustered just five hits and left six runners aboard over the last three innings.
"We hit some balls hard right at people," said Gadaire, who went 1-for-3 and scored a run. "It was tough to get back in it, even though we had some big scoring chances. We didn't get the big hit and that came back to hurt us."
Matt Holland (2-for-4) drove in Gadaire with a bad-hop grounder by first baseman Patrick Savage for the lead in the second, and Roche came across on Pete Greskoff's double-play grounder in the fourth.
Front Royal would not have another serious threat until the seventh.
"We couldn't chip away," Scarano said. "It was the middle innings where we lost the battle. After they put up that four [spot], we came back and put up one [run]. We couldn't get it done."
The Cardinals loaded the bases on three walks given up by Harrisonburg starter Stephen Kohlscheen (3-0) in the seventh before Styck came out of the bullpen.
The side-armer out of St. Joseph's got Logan Gillis to hit a soft fly into shallow right that second baseman Joe Huber tracked and caught for the third out.
The Cardinals also got Walsh to second with one out in the eighth, where he stayed after Jamieson tapped out to second and Gadaire struck out on a sweeping slider.
Front Royal hopes to regain momentum starting tonight with a game at New Market (8-16).
"Hitting comes and goes and we need to bounce back [Thursday]," Gadaire said. "We've got three more games before the all-star break and those are going to be pretty big games to put us in a good spot to come back and fight for a good [seed] in the [league] tournament."