By Jerry Holsworth - firstname.lastname@example.org
Luray jumped ahead by two runs after a half inning of play, then used a grand slam by Nick Rickles in the eighth to defeat Winchester 10-4 on Sunday in an emotional second game of their Valley League semifinal matchup.
Late during Friday's game with Covington, Wranglers infielder Michael Broad's grandfather suffered a fatal heart attack that left his Luray teammates crestfallen but undeterred. While Broad prepared to head home to Florida for the funeral, his teammates entered Bridgeforth Field on a mission.
"It happened on the last pitch of the ball game against Covington," Wranglers manager Mike Bocock said. "He passed away this morning. We wanted to win this game for Michael. He was a very important and very popular player on this team. Our kids were ready to play this morning."
It took very little time for their determination to show. Joel Capote and Rickles led off the first inning with back-to-back walks and both eventually scored to put the Wranglers ahead, 2-0. An RBI single to left field by Jonathan Murphy and a two-run homer by David Villasusa in the third inning expanded Luray's lead to 5-0.
Luray third baseman Mark Jones launched a solo home run over the left field fence to give the Wranglers a 6-0 lead in the fourth.
Royals starting pitcher Jon Jones, who took the loss, was the victim of the Wranglers' early scoring. The West Virginia sophomore gave up six runs on seven hits through 3 1/3 innings on the mound.
Undeterred by the early setback, Winchester began to claw its way back into the game after Royals relief pitcher Matt Robin entered the game in the fourth.
Cody Gaskill led off the Winchester fourth with a single to right-center field, then went to third on a double by Steve Sabins. Gaskill scored on a ground out by Raymond Church, and Sabins reached home on a groundout by Nathan Minnich to narrow Luray's lead to 6-2.
The Royals added another run in the fifth when Matt Faiman doubled home Tim Cross, closing the gap to 6-3.
"We fought back and we had a chance," Royal manager John Lowery Sr. said. "We had the bases loaded in the sixth and we were just one base hit away from getting to within a least one run."
Then disaster struck in the eighth, when a tiring Robin was forced to leave in favor of reliever Patrick Robinson with the bases loaded. Rickles, the next batter, smashed the ball out of the park to give the Wranglers an almost insurmountable 10-3 lead.
"Winchester has a very good team, and they really hit the ball well," Bocock said. "We discussed that before the game, and I told them that they're going to have to hit with them if we're going to win the game. We needed every one of those runs to beat them. Winchester is not one of those teams that will just lie down. We didn't feel comfortable until the last out of the game."
The Royals were able to add a run in the bottom of the ninth, but it wasn't nearly enough.
The Royals' loss sets up a critical Game 3 today at Luray.
"It was unfortunate that we gave up the grand slam," Lowery said. "But the kids battled to the end. It's still a two-out-of-three deal, and we're in the same situation we were in with Harrisonburg. There's no quit in this group, and that's reflected in the record that we have. We just have to see what happens."