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By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
STRASBURG -- Luray Wranglers manager Mike Bocock would take the following line score just about any night in the Valley League -- 15 runs on 18 hits with two errors.
Any night but Monday, that is. Bocock's squad put up those gaudy offensive statistics, but it wasn't enough to overcome host Strasburg in an 18-15 loss at First Bank Park.
The Express piled on with 22 hits of their own and broke out with an endless eight-run third inning to take a lead they'd never quite relinquish.
Luray (15-21) nearly did wipe out what had ballooned into a lopsided 16-7 Strasburg lead with an eight-run outburst of its own in the top of the sixth, but the Express came right back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the inning to push that lead into slightly more comfortable territory before turning it over to the bullpen, which responded with three scoreless innings to close out the victory.
"When you score 15 runs in this league you should win -- every time," Bocock said. "But we give up 22 hits and 18 runs, and we don't. We couldn't stop anybody."
Strasburg (13-23) got off to a rocky start early as Express starting pitcher Jonathan Jones was tagged for four first-inning runs and another in the second. Jones didn't make it out for the third after a dugout dust-up with teammate Blake Crabtree between innings prompted manager Butch Barnes to send both players home early.
After a three-run bottom of the first, Strasburg still trailed 5-3 heading into the bottom of the third.
"When they put up that four-spot on us in the first, I told our guys, 'You know that's not going to be enough,'" Barnes said. "We've been hitting the ball really well."
The one-out rally started modestly enough when Igor Molina drew a walk, then moved to third on Joe Bennie's single. Bennie tried for a double, but was out at second. It didn't matter, as Chris Gosik followed with an RBI single. Nick Core then singled, Nick Barnes followed with a two-run single, Kyle Zech singled, Ryan Hathaway got a run home by reaching on an error and Connor Madden drove in another with yet another single off Luray starter Kevin Chandler (1-3).
The inning wasn't over yet. Brad Zebidis followed by reaching on another error as two more runs scored and Molina ripped an RBI double to cap the outburst.
Molina, who had two home runs in Strasburg's 11-5 win over Luray on Sunday, crushed a Chandler pitch over the left-field wall in to account for those three first-inning runs. Molina was 3-for-5 with four RBIs on Monday against the Wranglers.
"That might have been the farthest ball I've seen hit here in the 12 or 13 years I've been around here," Barnes said of Molina's homer.
Core unleashed a two-run blast of his own in the fourth and Nick Barnes highlighted a three-run fifth with a a two-run double.
Luray wasn't done yet, as Erik Hempe ripped a three-run homer and Orlando Olivera followed with a solo blast off Strasburg reliever Alexander Haines as part of an eight-run sixth that pulled the Wranglers to within a run at 16-15. Luray might even have tied it if Mark Jones hadn't been thrown out at home by Kyle Zech on Ryan Retz's double.
Zebidis, the VBL's leading hitter, got Strasburg right back on the scoreboard in the bottom of the inning with a two-run homer.
Zebidis had three RBIs in all, while Nick Barnes drove in four and Chris Gosik had four hits for the Express. Haines worked 3 1/3 innings to earn the win in relief, while Nick Bruns pitched a scoreless ninth for the save.
The third straight win gave Strasburg a bit of a boost in the VBL's wildcard standings, but the Express still have considerable ground to make up to earn a playoff spot.
"We're really taking it one game at a time," Butch Barnes said. "We've already surpassed the number of wins for a first-year program that I expected us to get."