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By Ben Brooks - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Nathan Minnich's three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning put Winchester ahead to stay Friday night, but the Royals still needed to survive multiple New Market threats, including one in the ninth, to escape with a 5-4 Valley Baseball League victory at Bridgeforth Field.
With the Royals up by a run in the top of the ninth, New Market's Antonio Callaway singled with one out and catcher Chase Okey drew a walk from Winchester reliever Tyler Backstrom to put the tying run in scoring position. Royals manager John Lowery called for his fifth pitcher of the night, Jacob Palese, to end the threat.
The Radford University right-hander from Warrenton did just that by snagging pinch-hitter John Sgromolo's soft liner and firing to first for a game-ending double play.
"I'm sure glad he caught it," said Lowery, who wasn't sure if the ball was hit hard enough to get through the infield and score the tying run. "The ball wasn't hit all that hard. If we had gotten an out someplace, we'd have been lucky."
Minnich's team-leading fifth home run of the season provided the Royals (11-7) with the margin they needed at the end. After Mike Douglas and Brady Wilson led off the fifth with a walk and single, respectively, Rebels starting pitcher Eric Ford recorded back-to-back flyouts. Minnich then came to the plate and lined a 1-0 fastball over the fence in right field to give a boost to a Winchester team possibly still feeling the effects of a tough 13-12 late-inning loss to Haymarket on Tuesday, the first of two straight losses coming in Friday.
"We needed something like that, no matter who hit it," said Minnich, the 6-foot-3, 253-pound lefty from Shepherd University.
"He's got a nice swing," Lowery said of Minnich. "He can go the other way, but if he gets a pitch he likes he can turn on it. He's legit."
The Rebels (10-8), who saw their three-game win streak end, had at least one runner on base in every inning. New Market stranded 13 runners for the game, including 10 in scoring position.
"We kind of go through streaks like that, where we can't get the key hits at crucial times," Rebels manager Corey Paluga said. "We didn't play our best, but we're still in it at the end of the game. I can't ask for much more than that."
The way New Market's pitching staff had been throwing this week (four runs allowed in the last three games), the last thing the Royals needed to do was give the Rebels any extra help. But that's just what Winchester did in the early going. New Market parlayed three Winchester errors in the first four innings into an early 3-0 lead. After Matt Ford's two-out RBI single in the second, Winchester errors in the third and fourth plated two more New Market tallies.
The Royals got one run back in the bottom of the fourth when K'shawn Smith's single scored Jake Ringold.
Following Minnich's three-run blast, Winchester got what proved to be a much-needed insurance run in a wild sixth. Rebels reliever Josh Frederick walked four batters and the Royals scored their fifth run when Okey's throw to first after a force out at the plate was errant, allowing Smith to score.
Greg Welsh earned the win after three innings of work in relief of Royals starter Kellen Camus, who was making his first appearance this summer. The Rebels outhit the Royals, 10-7. Stephen Oswald led New Market with a 3-for-4 performance and an RBI.