By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With the way he was pitching Tuesday night, Harrisonburg's Drew Granier didn't need a whole lot of support. He got it anyway.
The Turks backed Granier's solid performance with five home runs, including three in a four-run sixth inning, on their way to an 8-4 victory over Winchester in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Valley Baseball League first-round playoff series at Bridgeforth Field.
The win puts the sixth-seeded Turks (23-22) one win away from the VBL's semifinals. Harrisonburg hosts third-seeded Winchester (26-19) tonight in Game 2.
Granier, a junior right-hander from Louisiana-Monroe, scattered nine hits, struck out 13, and walked just one over 7 1/3 innings of work to run his team-best record to 6-1. The two Royals who seemed to have an answer for Granier were Cody Gaskill and Steve Sabins. Gaskill hit a pair of solo home runs and Sabins had three hits, including a double in the eighth that chased Granier from the game.
"I just told the guys to hit his fastball, because he had a tough breaking ball that he could throw for strikes at any time," said Gaskill, who leads the Royals with 40 RBIs this summer.
Granier kept a Winchester team that erupted for 20 runs the night before off balance with a combination of curveballs and sliders.
"I usually throw the curveball to get ahead and the slider to put them away," said Granier, who ran his league-best strikeout total to 84.
What was shaping up to be a pitcher's duel dramatically changed in the top of the sixth inning. That's when the Turks hit three home runs to go from a 2-1 lead to a much more comfortable 6-1 advantage. Connor Winn led off with his first of the season, followed by Shaun Cooper's league-leading 12th. Two batters later, Scott Dalrymple added a two-run shot to end the night for Royals starter Jon Jones (2-5).
Cooper added a two-run homer in the ninth -- his 13th on the year -- to give the Turks some needed insurance. Harrisonburg came into the game with 19 home runs as a team.
"We haven't really been a home-run hitting team," said Cooper, a sophomore center fielder from the University of Arizona. "But it felt good in the first playoff game to have that in our arsenal. Tonight, we brought out the big guns."
The Royals put some pressure on Harrisonburg closer Stephen Styck in the last two innings. However, Winchester managed just one run while leaving the bases loaded in both the eighth and ninth. In the final frame, Styck (seven saves) loaded the bases with a hit batter and two walks, but he escaped the jam with a game-ending strikeout.
"We were going to either win it with Stephen or lose it," Turks manager Bob Wease said. "He's been our closer all year long. Tonight, he just didn't have it."
"We generated enough hits, but we just couldn't get them in," Royals manager John Lowery said. "It's just a matter of getting the key hit. Their two-run homer in the ninth was crucial."