By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Dickie Dombrowsky should have considered asking the Valley Baseball League for an exemption this season.
Dombrowsky, the coach of the Manassas Post 158 American Legion baseball team, has assembled a roster this season with arguably as much college talent as high-school level players.
So far, it's been a dreary assignment to play Dombrowsky's team. The Front Royal Post 53 squad found out first-hand on Tuesday night in an 18-5 loss at Bing Crosby Stadium. Manassas laced line drives and sharp grounders all night, piling up 22 hits (eight for extra bases) in running its record to 6-1 this season.
"They're for real," Front Royal coach Danny Wood said. "... They're probably the cream of the crop in this district.
"Based on what I've seen so far, I would expect them to probably win the district and make some noise in the state [tournament]."
Front Royal (4-6) fell into a 5-1 hole in the top of the first inning, as Manassas sent nine men to the plate against starter Jeff Cash. John Hardy's two-run double was the big blow in the four-run inning for Manassas.
Cash had a rough time against Manassas, never escaping an inning without at least some damage. In the fourth already trailing 7-1, Cash gave up back-to-back singles to Sean Garza and Josh Swirchak (Frederick Community College), then walked Scott Halsey to load the bases with no outs. Cash struck out Ryan Douglas, but then gave up one last tally by walking Joey Gaouette to force in a run.
Rising junior Sterling Jennings inherited that bases-loaded jam, and the Warren County right-hander needed just two pitches -- one each to Hardy and Conner Murphy -- to escape without further damage.
Post 53 rallied for a pair of runs in the fourth off Manassas starter Chris Hoffa, with Logan Hibbs delivering an RBI single. Hoffa limited the damage by striking out Jennings with the bases loaded.
Jennings, who pitched 5 2/3 innings in relief, largely held Manassas at bay until the ninth. Then he ran into trouble, allowing three straight singles to Swirchak, Douglas and Halsey, then a two-run double to Gaouette.
"Sterling is soon to be 16, but he's 15 years old and he's playing against 18, 19-year old young men out here," Wood said. "I thought Sterling, all in all, did a great job."
Hardy followed with an RBI groundout, an error plated another run and kept the inning going, Josh Jenkins singled, and Garza finally straightened out one of his ferocious line drives for a three-run homer over the right-field fence to cap a seven-run outburst.
"He's got that launch angle," Dombrowsky said of Garza, one of three players on the roster who have signed to play at Division II Glenville State next season. "It's almost like it's too much. He hit that one solid."
Swirchak had five hits to lead Manassas, and Jenkins added a 4-for-6 night. Douglas and Gaouette chipped in three hits apiece.
Chaz Rutherford and Cody Zimmerman had two hits apiece to lead Front Royal. Post 53 finished the night with 10 hits.
"They've hit the ball well the last four or five games," Wood said. "Against a lot of teams, we'll hit well enough to win. But not against this team."