By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
FRONT ROYAL -- The New Market Re.bels reached their own "Elite Eight" in extending their Valley Baseball League winning streak to eight games with an 8-1 win over the host Front Royal Cardinals in their inter-divisional matchup at Bing Crosby Stadium on Friday night.
The win completes the Rebels' recovery from a horrendous 0-8 season start, to reach .500 with an 8-8 record.
The Rebels got eight innings from starter Bug Cox, the offense bashed three solo home runs and three doubles among 13 hits, and the defense made two double plays and threw out a runner at the plate from the outfield.
Cox, from Tennessee-Martin, gave up nine hits, all singles, struck out two, issued two walks and hit a batter to improve to 2-1 and shave a bit off his impressive game-start 1.38 ERA.
"[Through the middle innings] I tried to stay with my same stuff," Cox said. "Tonight, strikeouts were not going to happen because [the Cardinals] are a good-hitting team with two strikes, so I was trying to keep my pitch count down and just tried to get them out with four, or fewer, pitches.
"And our defense was really there, like they were against Harrisonburg. They're just a big help. I keep my pitch count down and they help me, that's how we win."
Even New Market's nine-hole hitter, third baseman Matt Ford, of Hofstra, had a good night. He went 2-for-4 with a double, two RBIs and run scored.
New Market got on the board in the second, as Pat Porter lashed a lead-off, two-strike double into the net above the 12-foot high right-field wall. After two outs, Ford lasered a sinking liner to center for a single, plating Porter.
In the third, first baseman Justin Lacy (senior, Longwood), laced a two-out, no-doubt homer, his third of the season, over the net in left center for a 2-0 Rebels lead.
Cox got first pitch-strikes to the first nine batters he faced and retired the first eight in a row, with Luis Renvill caught stealing after leading off the second with a single, and James Pitts grounding into a 4-6-3 double play after Gaither Bumgardner drew a lead-off walk.
New Market sent eight batters to the plate and picked up three more runs in the fourth off Cardinals starter Heath Durand.
Durand walked Porter and Kevin DeFilippis to start the action, then struck out Andrew Burgess before Ford tattooed a double off the center-field wall, driving in Porter. DeFilippis was thrown out at the plate.
Ryan Mayhew relieved Durand and Mac Hudgins greeted him with a sinking liner to right field, just out of reach of lunging right fielder Jordan Lee, scoring Ford with the fourth earned run charged to Durand (3 1/3 innings, six hits, four strikeouts). Durand took the loss, dropping his record to 0-2.
Jeff Heisey then touched up Mayhew for a single to score Hudgins from second.
The Cardinals (7-10) threatened in their half of the fourth, as Christopher Gruarin led off with a single, Corey Dick drew a walk, and each moved up a base on Renvill's ground out.
But Cox got Zach Bricknell to pop out, and first baseman Lacy used every bit of his 6-foot-2 frame to keep his foot on the bag when second baseman Matt Dickason threw wide on a ground out by Jordan Lee.
In the seventh, Dickason cranked a first pitch lead-off homer to center, his fourth round-tripper of the year, off Josh Harlow to increase New Market's lead to 6-0.
Cox returned to the mound for the Rebels in the eighth, and the Cardinals finally touched him up.
Gruarin led off with single, and one out later Renvill also singled to right, moving Gruarin to second.
Both runners advanced on Bricknell's ground out, and Lee followed with a single to center that went off Dickason's glove. Gruarin scored, but Renvill was thrown out at the plate by Dickason, who had chased down the ball in shallow center field.
Jake McWhirter came on to pitch for the Cardinals in the ninth, and was greeted by a first-pitch homer to right field by Hudgins, the second dinger of the year for the Notre Dame freshman.
Batting in the lead-off spot, Hudgins went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and two runs.
"When I was watching their bullpen playing left field, I got a pretty good feel for what [McWhirter] was throwing and I saw his release point," Hudgins said. He threw a first-pitch fastball, and I jumped on it, and got lucky -- it snuck out of there.
"This is awesome. After starting 0-8, to come back and turn around and win eight straight, the guys are coming together, the team's loving it, and everyone is just on a high now."
Alex Boshers pitched the ninth for New Market and issued a lead-off walk to Bumgardner, then retired the next three batters to close out the scorebook.
In their remarkable winning streak, the Rebels had three one-run wins and two blow-outs.
"[Cox] pitched a great game tonight," New Market manager John Combs said. "He pitched seven against Harrisonburg about a week ago and won, 3-2. He's got good stuff and a lot of poise on the mound. [Deep starts] saves the bullpen a lot when you're playing every day."
Heavy rain and thunderstorms coursed through Front Royal shortly before the game, but the field was ready for play after a 30-minute delay.