By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- Both Woodstock and Winchester headed into Tuesday's Valley League contest at Falcon Field badly needing a win.
Both teams were on a two-game losing streak and needed to change their momentum. The Royals were able to capitalize on a four-run first inning to take an early lead and hold off the River Bandits for a 9-5 win.
"If we could score four runs in the first inning every night, that would be great," Winchester manager John Lowery said. "We've been playing from behind lately, so it's good to have the shoe on the other foot for once."
Woodstock starting pitcher Vincent Voiro didn't help his cause in the first by walking two Winchester batters and allowing a Royals' base runner to advance on a wild pitch. It was a balk by Voiro that gave Winchester its first run of the game when Cory Spangenberg scored from third.
Doubles by Cody Gaskill and Colby Gratton drove home the other three runs for the Royals in the inning.
"I've been seeing the ball well lately," Gaskill said. "It's about time. It takes a little while to get used to the wooden bat, but I think everybody is finally getting used to it and we're starting to swing the bat pretty well lately."
Gaskill was on fire at the plate for Winchester, going 4-for-5 with four RBIs, including a solo home run in the ninth.
"Cody is starting to really hit the ball consistently for us," Lowery said. "He had a big hit in the first that gave us an early lead and that really helped with momentum."
After a rough first inning, Winchester starter Jon Jones was nearly flawless on the mound. The West Virginia sophomore did allow a walk and a single to the first two batters he faced, but Royals shortstop Spangenberg helped get Jones out of the inning by starting a spectacular double play.
"I thought I did a good job pitching tonight," Jones said. "I had to get used to what the umpire was calling early in the game. Once I settled down and made an adjustment, things really began to click."
Jones did not allow a hit through the next three innings and got Woodstock out in order with three straight strikeouts in the second. His only mistake came in the fourth inning when Chris Cowell clubbed a two-run homer for the River Bandits over the center-field fence.
"I've been struggling at the plate lately, and I just tried to shorten up on the bat a little to see if that would work," Cowell said. "I got a ball up in the strike zone and I was able to drive it out."
Jones, however, recovered and got the win by allowing just three runs on three hits during his six innings on the mound. He struck out six and allowed just two walks.
"I made one mistake and he sent it out of the park," Jones said. "But other than that, I thought I had a pretty good night."
Cowell's blast narrowed Winchester's lead to 4-3, but the Royals added two runs in the fifth and another two runs in the seventh to put the game away.
Woodstock's two-run rally in the eighth inning was not enough to get the River Bandits back in the game.
"We just need to put it all together," Cowell said. "We've had games where we hit the ball really well. Other nights, we pitch well. We just need to put those two things together and play good defense. If we can do that, we'll be fine."