By Ben Brooks - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- With the Valley Baseball League's regular season slowly counting down, the Woodstock River Bandits need to make every game count if they hope to make a push for the eight-team playoffs.
On Thursday, the River Bandits did just that, gutting out a 5-4 11-inning victory over second-place Winchester at Bridgeforth Field.
Billy Barber's RBI double and Erich Fernandez's run-scoring single in the top of the 11th broke a 3-3 tie, and Woodstock relief pitcher Alex Maffett survived a Winchester rally in the bottom half of the inning.
"That's been our story all year," said Woodstock manager Donn Foltz, who was ejected along with Kenny Burns in the ninth on a called third strike. "We haven't gotten a lot of breaks. We've had some unlucky stretches, and tonight I didn't know if we were going to break that or not."
Twice late in the game, the River Bandits (15-19) saw the Royals rally to tie the game. The second time came in the bottom of the 10th, when Woodstock shortstop Derek Vigoa booted what could have been a game-ending double-play ball. The error allowed Keaton Neeb to score the tying run.
In the 11th, Woodstock touched up Winchester reliever Britton Quayle for four hits. Barber, who up to that point was hitless in four at-bats, figured he was due.
"I saw him in the inning before that and got a walk," the first baseman from the University of Richmond said. "He left a slider up a little and I was able to put the bat on it."
Woodstock pitching ace Vince Voiro and Winchester's Evan Cox waged a strong pitching duel for much of the game. Voiro allowed just three hits and one unearned run in seven innings of work. Cox was equally effective, throwing nine innings of five-hit ball. His only blemish was Mike Garza's two-run homer to left in the fifth inning that put the River Bandits on top, 2-1.
"That's the second game in a row that he's thrown real well and doesn't have anything to show for it," Royals manager John Lowery said of Cox. "It was frustrating on a lot of levels tonight."
Winchester (20-15), which fell to 2 1/2 games behind league-leading Haymarket, didn't go down without a fight. Down two in the bottom of the 11th, Nathan Minnich singled, Neeb walked, and Timmy Cross blooped an RBI double into shallow left with two outs to cut the deficit to 5-4. Maffett, however, got Kevin Brashears to ground out on a close play at first to end the game.
"They're all must-wins now," said Foltz, whose team entered Thursday's game two games in front of last-place Rockbridge but only two games behind seventh-place New Market. "We've got to try to win them all. We can't depend on other people. But if we take care of business and do what we're supposed to do, we'll be OK. That's life in the Valley League."