By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Cory Spangenburg has been able to spray hits throughout the season in the Valley Baseball League. In fact, the Winchester shortstop entered Sunday night's key late-season matchup with rival Front Royal with a league-best .400 batting average.
Up until the eighth inning, Spangenburg had no hits through four plate appearances. He had an entertaining at-bat in the sixth, when he fouled off six pitches on two strikes before earning a walk. But with the game tied late and the Royals needing something more than a free pass with two runners on base, Spangenburg showcased how he got to the top of the league in batting with a go-ahead hit against one of top relievers in the circuit.
Spangenburg smashed a two-out double down the first-base line off Oren Rasowsky to plate both Tim Cross and former Cardinal Kevin Brashears for the lead, and Winchester's bullpen continued to pitch lights out in a 5-3 win at Bing Crosby Stadium that assured the Royals of no worse than a No. 3 seed for this week's opening round of the VBL playoffs.
"I had runners on every time I was at bat," said Spangenburg, who struck out in the ninth inning Friday in a 10-7 loss at home to the Cardinals. "I was just trying to help the team out [Sunday], and I finally did in my last at-bat.
"We knew if we were close with them in the end that we could pull it out. We lost a tight one to them [Friday] knowing that we should have won. Hopefully we can take this momentum in the playoffs and make a little run."
Winchester (25-18) scored the game's last four runs and earned its first win over Front Royal (23-20) since June 6.
"We've struggled with Front Royal this year and [Friday] night we let one get away, so tonight was a big win for us," Winchester manager John Lowery Sr. said. "It secured [at least] the No. 3 seed and we're tickled with that."
After starter Jon Jones could get only two outs, Lowery called on Matt Robin out of the bullpen. Front Royal moved ahead 2-1 on Matt Holland's single and a wild pitch that scored Pete Greskoff in the first, but Robin got out of the inning by striking out Steve Rogers with the bases loaded.
In a strange second inning, Robin walked the first three batters of the frame before coming back to fan James Roche, Greskoff, and Holland in order to escape damage.
Though he gave up a two-out, RBI single to Will Walsh in the fifth to allow the Cardinals to move out to a 3-1 lead, Robin got big outs for the most part. He left after five innings, with five walks and nine strikeouts on his ledger.
"I told [Robin] the first nine guys he faced never put the ball in play," Lowery Sr. said. "And I thought [Tyler] Easterly threw well for us. He's thrown [12.2] innings for us and hasn't given up a earned run yet. He's been a nice late-season pick-up."
To finish up, Easterly continued to keep Front Royal from scoring.
With Winchester holding its 5-3 lead in the ninth, Easterly walked Greskoff leading off. Holland followed with a long blast to center, but Brashears made the catch on the warning track for the first out. Sean Jamieson followed with a single, and Lowery paid Easterly a brief visit.
Keeping confidence with the right-hander, Easterly made his manager proud and got A. J. Albee -- 3-for-3 to that point -- to hit a first-pitch fly out to Brashears.
"Stephen [Cooke] was down in the bullpen warming up and I told [Easterly], 'I don't want you looking over your shoulder at the bullpen -- this is your game [to finish],'" Lowery Sr. said.
When Easterly got Andy Drexel to do the same and hit a routine fly to Brashears, Winchester had its crucial win.
Front Royal left 14 runners on base in the loss, including 10 in the first four innings. Front Royal starter Dan Smith had a no-decision, despite giving up just one earned run over his five innings.