By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- After swapping 8-4 wins over the last two days, Winchester and Harrisonburg squared off for a trip to the semifinals of the Valley League playoffs. Regardless of the results, however, it was the last game for Winchester's Evan Cox and Cory Spangenberg, who will be heading home today.
The Winchester pair saved their best performance of the year for their last game at Bridgeforth Field, leading the Royals to a dominating 7-1 victory over the Turks.
"These last two nights have been a do-or-die situation and the kids really responded," Winchester manager John Lowery said. "Evan has been a workhorse for us. He's thrown the most innings of anybody on the staff. This was Cory's last night too and he went all-out for us. He came into the game tonight with 77 hits and he got four more."
Cox got the win, allowing just one run on five hits while pitching all nine innings for Winchester. The Central Arkansas junior registered eight strikeouts and just three walks.
"Evan has done a great job for us all year," Spangenberg said. "We usually don't give him a lot of help with runs, though. It was good to do that for him tonight."
Although Cox retired Harrisonburg in order six times, including in the first four innings, he did have a few tough moments during the game. Each time, however, the Royals defense was there to cover his back. Winchester stopped two Turks rallies with double plays in the second and ninth innings.
"I have to be honest about this game," Cox said. "When I was out there struggling, our defense really backed me up. I had guys on second and third in one inning, and they hit a hard ground ball up the middle, but Cory was there to make the stop. That was huge."
Harrisonburg's only run came in the sixth when J. J. Loker and Connor Winn got back-to-back doubles with one out.
"Winchester was a great experience," Cox said. "I really appreciate the coaching staff, and my host parents gave me a great place to live. This will be an experience I will never forget."
While Cox was keeping the Turks batters at bay, Spangenberg was having a perfect night at the plate. The VMI freshman, who was the Valley League's top hitter this season, went 4-for-4 with two RBIs. His first hit may have been his hardest when, after grounding to first, he beat Turk starting pitcher Aaron Luchterhand to first base.
"The people of Winchester have done so much for me this summer. It's hard to express my thanks in words," Spangenberg said. "They made we one of their own, they've fed me, and gave me a wonderful place to live. It was just a great experience to play in front of these fans."
The third inning turned out to be all Winchester would need. After taking a 1-0 lead when Matt Faiman scored on a sacrifice fly by Colby Gratton, the Royals exploded for five runs in their next trip to the plate.
Faiman was 2-for-4 at the plate and scored two runs for Winchester. Gratton had only one hit in his three trips to the plate, but he tallied two RBIs for the Royals.
Tim Cross led the inning off with a double down the left-field line, and scored after Kevin Brashears advanced to first on an error by the Harrisonburg shortstop. Spangenberg scored Brashears on a double to center, then scored on a sacrifice fly to center by Steve Sabins.
A groundout to first by Nathan Minnich, and a double to center by Gratton, got Winchester its final two RBIs of the inning.
The Royals added another run in the seventh when a single by Spangenberg scored Brashears.
For the Turks, it was a disappointing way to end the season.
"Their pitcher did a great job, and we just didn't have any pitching," Harrisonburg manager Bob Wease said. "We were tremendous during the first half of the season, but we've lost so many players to the draft, injuries, and just wanting to go home. To be honest with you, the last two weeks have been the pits."