By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal was gifted with 11 walks and three errors by Staunton, but the Braves banged out 19 hits en route to an 11-8 10-inning win in Valley Baseball League action Sunday night.
The Cardinals (7-13) losing streak was extended to four games, after suffering a 10th-inning loss Saturday night to Rockbridge.
The evening began well for the Cardinals as they jumped all over Braves starter Luke Leeth in the first inning, batting around for three runs on three hits, two walks and a two-base throwing error.
Second baseman Luis Renvill knocked in the first run on a single to right field, plating Chris Gruarin, who singled and went to second on a walk to Corey Dick. Staunton right fielder Blake Sipe's throw was about 10 feet high to the plate on Renvill's hit, enabling Dick to score and Renvill to advance to second.
Keaton Neeb drew a walk, then designated hitter Cody Yount delivered a single to right field, driving in Renvill to give Front Royal a 3-0 lead.
David Atwood struck out and Zach Bricknell was hit by a pitch to load the bases, but Leeth got Kyle Pitts to strike out, ending the Cardinals' outburst.
The Cardinals lead vanished in the top of the second, as Staunton pounded Front Royal starter Darin Wiltgen for four runs on four hits.
Wiltgen issued a lead-off walk to Kevin Courtney, followed by a single by TJ Shantz, and Phil Lipari's single off Wiltgen's glove, driving in Courtney.
Wiltgen then got temporary relief by inducing Kyle Morrow to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
But the Braves had more in their bats as Sipe singled to center and Ryan Stephens powered a double to the wall in left-center, scoring Sipe. Stephens then stole third and scored the Braves go-ahead fourth run when a balk was called on Wiltgen.
Leeth then settled down and didn't allow a hit over the next three innings.
However, the Braves (10-10) kept adding to the scoreboard, with a two-run homer by Shantz in the third. Jon Fitzsimmons relieved Wiltgen in the fourth and gave up runs in the fourth and fifth, for an 8-4 Staunton lead.
The Cardinals (7-13) came storming back with a four-run rally in the fifth.
Gruarin bashed a lead-off double, and Renvill smacked a one-out double, driving in Gruarin. Neeb then walked, bringing on reliever Chris Huffman.
Yount reached on an error by second baseman Jermaine Berry, loading the bases.
Huffman then issued the Braves' fifth walk, this one to Atwood, for an RBI, plating Neeb with the Cardinals' sixth run.
Bricknell then reached on a fielder's choice, forcing Atwood at second, and Berry committed his second error to allow Yount to score.
Front Royal tied it up in the sixth when Huffman issued a lead-off free pass to Matt Murakami, followed by the same courtesy to Gruarin.
Dick singled to shallow left to load the bases, and Murakami scored on Renvill's double play, to knot the tallies at 8-8.
Cardinals relievers Ben McKinney and Jake McWhirter shut out the Braves in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Front Royal nearly grabbed the win in ninth, when Renvill (2-for-4, double, 2 RBIs, 2 runs) received the Braves' eighth walk, this time off new reliever Aaron Johnson. Neeb followed with a sacrifice bunt that worked exceptionally well, as Renvill slide in safely to an uncovered third base.
"I rounded [second] and saw the third baseman here by the mound, and saw our third base coach telling me to come, and I just went for it," Renvill said. "We had a lot of opportunities, but just didn't take advantage of them. It's pretty tough losing two extra-inning games in a row, but we'll come back. We'll turn it around, I believe in us."
Yount drew another walk, but the rally was snuffed when Atwood grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, sending the game into extra innings.
Ryan Hines came on to pitch for the Cardinals in the 10th and began well enough by striking out Alex Fernandez. Kenneth Jackson reached on an error by first baseman Dick. Ricky Santiago came to the plate, having started his evening with three strikeouts and ground out, before getting a single in the eighth.
None of that mattered after Santiago (2-for-6, 2 RBIs, run scored) hammered a two-run homer over the wall-topping net in left field, to give the Braves a 10-8 lead.
"We started off rough, but we've been playing good lately," Santiago said. "We're having fun out here, playing good baseball.
"I was just trying to stay in it [after three strikeouts]. In baseball you're always going to have rough days, but anything can happen, as we saw today."
One out later, Shantz doubled, and Lipari tripled to make it 11-8.
"That's three out of four nights we've been able to score early," Braves manager Paul Lamarr said. "To be able to take a punch in the first inning, giving up three, and then punch right back in the top half, was a huge part of the game.
"[Leeth] was outstanding after that, he just needed to settle in. And once he did, he found a rhythm real quick."
The Cardinals' walkathon continued in the bottom of the 10th when reliever Paul Mittura issued walks 10 and 11 to Bricknell and Murakami, sandwiched around a Pitts strikeout. But Mittura got Gruarin to strike out and Dick to fly out to end the game.
Five Staunton batters had multiple-hit games, with Sipe, Stephans, and Lipari getting three hits each.
"We just didn't really execute well," Cardinals manager Clayton Kuklick said. "Offensively we still gotta get on time and be aggressive. Obviously, six hits ain't gonna cut it. And our pitching staff isn't being as effective as they were earlier [in the season]. We have to tighten up there.
"We have to put a run together here. There's a big mess of teams, with the third and fourth place spots up for grabs."