By Dennis Atwood - email@example.com
NEW MARKET -- The visiting Front Royal Cardinals bashed two solo homers, got a timely double play and were aided by four New Market errors to take an 8-2 win in an inter-divisional matchup of two fifth-place Valley Baseball League teams Friday night at Rebel Park.
Front Royal (12-18) also got an effective six innings of work by starting pitcher Zach Bargeron and three shutout innings from reliever Heath Durand.
Bargeron, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound lefty junior from West Virginia, surrendered only two runs, book-ended in the first and sixth innings around four shutout frames, on seven hits, six strikeouts and two walks to improve to 3-2.
New Market (13-14) scored in the first as Matt Ford singled to left, moved up on a walk to Matt Dickason and scored on Jeff Heisey's single to center.
Bargeron cruised through the next four innings, limiting the Rebels to one hit in each inning and striking out six.
The Rebels mounted a rally in the sixth, ignited by Heisey's lead-off triple to the wall in the left-center gap.
While pitching to the next batter, designated hitter Garrett Boulware, Bargeron uncorked a wild pitch and Heisey scored on the miscue.
Boulware then drew a walk, and Bargeron hit Pat Porter with a pitch.
One out later, Jaren Sustar singled to right to load the bases.
But Bargeron worked out of jam by inducing Mac Hudgins to ground into a 6-4-3 double play before Durand come on in relief in the seventh.
"I stuck with my original approach, using the fastball as much as I could," Bargeron said. "When I started to get into jams, I brought out the breaking ball a little bit, and it seemed to keep [New Market] off balance because once you show them the breaking ball away, they don't know really when it's coming. That helped me out.
"I'm confident in our hitters. They've been hitting very well in these past couple of games. I just went out there and tried to hold [the Rebels] down as much as I could because I knew our hitters would score a bunch of runs."
The Cardinals touched up New Market starter Bug Cox for a run in the third frame.
With two outs, Jordan Lee was hit by a pitch, and used aggressive base-running to advance to third on Corey Dick's single to left. Luis Renvill then singled to center to plate Lee.
Front Royal pulled away from the 1-1 tie by scoring two in the fourth and three in the fifth.
Left fielder David Atwood, a sophomore at Young Harris College, led off the fourth with a first-pitch triple, his first of the year, that hit the right-field wall. One out later, Kyle Pitts executed an excellent safety squeeze bunt to score Atwood.
Chris Gruarin followed with his third homer of the year.
All three Cardinals runs in the fifth were unearned as they came after shortstop Matt Ford misplayed Keaton Neeb's routine grounder with two outs.
Neeb advanced to second on a passed ball, and scored on a Gaither Bumgardner single. Bumgardner advanced to second on the throw in, and Atwood followed with his third consecutive hit to score him.
Cox was relieved by newly arrived Josh Cesario, from Limestone College.
Cox went 4 2/3 innings, gave up six runs (three earned), on six hits four strikeouts, two walks, and hit batsman to fall to 2-3 with the loss.
Atwood scooted home with the Cardinal's sixth run on catcher Zach Fitzpatrick's throwing error after a Cesario wild pitch.
Atwood went 3-for-5 with a triple, two runs and an RBI to improve his batting average from .222 to .250.
"I've worked a lot with our hitting coach about getting set in time, getting read, and just being aggressive on pitches," said Atwood, "hitting earlier in the count, and seeing stuff over the plate to put a good swing on it."
Gruarin was 2-for-5 with a home run for Front Royal.
The best Rebels bats were wielded by Hudgins (2-for-5, two doubles) and Heisey (2-for-4, triple),
"[Bargeron] pitched really well and we had good defense behind him and kept on them offensively," Front Royal manager Clayton Kuklick said. "We had a good baseball game, from top to bottom, putting all three aspects together."
Kuklick confirmed the loss to injury of Matt Murakami, one of the Cardinals' key players.
"On a 1-2 count against Staunton last night, the ball got away from the pitcher and hit him below the left eye, and broke one or more bones," Kuklick said. "He was in good spirits and he won't need surgery. We're really gonna miss him. He was an All-Star selection and great on offense."
Murakami, a George Washington junior who played shortstop, had his season ended with a .289 average and he was third in league with 10 stolen bases.