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Can't catch a break: Express strand 13 runners in home setback to Turks

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Strasburg’s Eric Hailer runs into the left-field corner to track down a deep fly ball that went for a sacrifice fly in the second inning of Tuesday’s Valley Baseball League game against visiting Harrisonburg. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Strasburg’s Brenton Peters catches a third-inning pop-up on Tuesday. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Benjamin Verlander of Strasburg pitches against Harrisonburg in the first inning. Dennis Grundman/Daily

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Nicholas Barnes of Strasburg leaps for a throw while Robert Perucki of Harrisonburg steals second in the third inning. Dennis Grundman/Daily

By Dennis Atwood - sports@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- The Northern Division's Strasburg Express outhit the Central Division-leading Harrisonburg Turks, but left 13 runners on base and were behind six runs before mounting a three-run rally in the ninth inning as Harrisonburg held on to win, 7-4, Tuesday night at First Bank Park.

Turks right fielder Mac Williamson had an outstanding night in the batter's box and in the field.

In the first inning, Williamson smashed a two-out pitch with a howitzer-shot home run (third of the season) over the tall trees behind the left-field fence, collecting Dodson McPherson, who walked ahead of him, on his trip around the bases to give the Turks a quick 2-0 lead.

In the bottom of the eighth, Strasburg (2-8) had the bases loaded with two outs when Brenton Peters hit a deep line drive to right-center that had extra-bases and multiple RBIs written all over it.

Somehow Williamson raced back and vectored the ball, which he caught over his left shoulder with his back to the infield, for a web gem that snuffed out the Express rally.

"It was tough in the outfield, because the lights aren't superb, so it's tough for the outfielders [who] have a tough time picking up the ball," Williamson said. "I was having trouble until it got about halfway into the outfield.

"I kinda saw the general direction of its path, ran that way, and as it got closer, I just tried to cut it off, threw my glove at, snow-coned it and called it an inning. That really saved some momentum from [Strasburg's] dugout."

For an encore, Williamson (2-for-4, three RBIs, run) smashed a one-out double to the right-field fence in the ninth inning to drive in Jay Gonzalez for the Turks' seventh run.

"Yeah, I hit that one inside out," Williamson said. "I wish I could have cut out the [two] strikeouts."

"Mac [Williamson] is a big-time ballplayer," Turks manager Bob Wease said. "He hit 13 or 14 home runs in the ACC for Wake Forest. He was drafted this year, and he turned down a bunch of money and he's going back to Wake Forest. You'll see him in the big leagues."

Turks starting pitcher Eric Meyerchick threw a two-hitter for five innings before the Express got on track in the sixth frame.

Express first baseman Brad Zebedis (Northern Division player of the week) punched a grounder between the 3-4 hole for a one-out single.

After the second out, catcher Trey Such hit a one-hopper up the middle for a single, moving Zebedis to second.

Eric Hailer hit a two-hopper down the third-base line that was back-handed by third baseman J.J. Loker for an infield single that loaded the bases.

Blake Crabtree (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) then lashed a line drive to left, scoring Zebedis with Strasburg's first run.

Nick Barnes ended the rally by grounding into a fielder's choice.

The Express left seven runners on base during Meyerchick's outing, and the Turks (8-2) turned double plays in the first and second innings to stifle Strasburg's offense.

Meyerchick gave up a harmless one-out single to Ryan Hathaway in the seventh to finish with seven complete innings, yielding one run on seven hits, five strikeouts and three walks, to improve his record to 2-0.

"I wasn't getting ahead [of the batters] like I wanted to," Meyerchick said. "The most important thing I did tonight was I battled. The strike zone was smaller than I'm used to. When I walked those guys, my focus is not to get a strikeout, but to get the ball down, and those double plays really helped.

"We have a great group of guys, I'm having fun and it's beautiful out here."

Harrisonburg picked up single runs in the second, third, fourth, seventh and ninth innings, but had trouble closing out the game.

After Williamson's gem ended Strasburg's eighth-inning rally with no runs and the bases loaded, the Express sent eight batters to the plate in the ninth.

Hathaway led off with a single and Connor Madden followed with a double.

Zebedis drew a walk to load the bases and Joseph Bennie then also drew a walk, earning an RBI as Hathaway was pushed across the plate.

One out later, Hailer was safe on an infield error, with a Madden scoring run number three.

Crabtree grounded out with Zebedis scoring Strasburg's fourth run, before Nick Barnes struck out to end the game.

Express starting pitcher Benjamin Verlander worked 3 1/3 innings and took the loss.

"We've just gotta piece things together," Express manager Butch Barnes said. "We left 13 guys on base, and you just can't do that. Probably eight or nine of them were in scoring position.

"We need to keep the games close and we're trying to figure some things out. We got three more players in tonight and we have one more coming. We're going to be all right."

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