By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- In spite of knocking the Waynesboro Generals out of first place in the South Division with a victory at Waynesboro on Tuesday night, the Front Royal Cardinals couldn't follow through and relinquished three leads in losing to the Haymarket Senators, 5-4, on Wednesday at Bing Crosby Stadium.
Front Royal surrendered a 1-0 lead in the sixth inning, a 3-2 lead in eighth, and a 4-3 lead in the ninth.
Haymarket broke a six-game losing streak, and the Cardinals continued to have better success on the road (6-5) as compared to home (2-9).
The Cardinals fell to 8-14, and are now halfway through the 44-game Valley League regular-season schedule. The top four teams in each of North and South divisions will qualify for postseason play.
Cardinals left fielder Jordan Lee, a rising freshman at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, did his best -- hitting in the seven-hole -- to bring success to Front Royal.
Lee went 2-for-4, scoring the Cardinals' first run after a leading off the third inning with a single, and greeted submarine-throwing Senators reliever BJ Gunderson with a one-out double in the seventh, scoring the go-ahead third run for Front Royal.
"It would have been best if we had won," Lee said. "We gave up the lead twice, or three times. I guess we can just keep fighting and hope for the best tomorrow.
"I actually faced [Gunderson] earlier in the year and he got me out on a broken bat, so I was trying to stand up in the box to hit a ball before it broke."
Haymarket knotted the score at 3-3 in the eighth as reliever Ben McKinney gave up a two-out triple to Patrick Wiese on a hit that banged off a wall-top fence support post in right-center, and continued airborne into left-center.
"That was my first triple of the year," Wiese said. "It was huge today [breaking the losing streak] and our pitching staff did a great job keeping us in the game. "I saw it out of [McKinney's] hand that might be high and got a good jump on it, and made it home.
"Going back the previous five games [all losses], we've been there till the end. We've competed in every game and had a chance to win every game. But tonight things finally worked out, and hopefully we started on a winning streak tonight."
Wiese (2-for-5) scored the tying run on a McKinney wild pitch that sailed at least six feet over catcher Keaton Neeb to the backstop screen.
Larry Balkwill drove in the Senators' fourth, and tying run, in the ninth on a sacrifice fly, driving in Keenan Cook, who got on with a one-out single and advanced to second on a walk to Joe Woodward by Front Royal reliever Ryan Hines.
Wiese, a LeMoyne sophomore, continued his late-game success with a two-out single to right in the ninth that plated Woodward with the Senators' go-ahead, and eventual winning, fifth run.
The Cardinals were unable to cash in on a golden scoring opportunity in the sixth as Kyle Pitts led off with a double and Matt Murakami followed up with a single, advancing Pitts to third, then moved to second on a wild pitch by Haymarket starter Chris Acker.
Acker recovered completely by striking out Chris Gruarin, Corey Dick and Luis Renvill, the Cardinals' two, three and four hitters, in order.
Gunderson (1-2) picked up the win with only 1 2/3 inning of work, having the good fortune to be the pitcher of record when the Senators scored the tying and go-ahead runs in the ninth. Shay Maltese earned his third save for Haymarket (8-13).
Hines (0-2) took the loss.
Murakami got three singles in his last three at-bats after twice reaching on errors to go 3-for-5.
"It was a 1-1 game through the first six innings -- they were scrapping and clawing, and we were scrapping and clawing," Senators manager Justin Aspergren said. "We executed a little bit in the sixth to score a run. We got a good team at-bat with a hit-and-run.
"At the end of the game, they punched and we punched back. We just scored one extra run. There was nothing special on either side.
"It's good to get off the really, really tough losses we were suffering. The guys are playing with such high energy. [They're] a super-, super-cohesive group. We were taking the back end of a 7-6 game, a 3-1 game, and 10-9 extra-inning game, so it's good for them to finally get that reward that their trust in that process would get them to."