By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- If Jimmy Yezzo was feeling jealous Tuesday night at Bridgeforth Field, the Winchester Royals slugging third baseman wasn't letting on.
Yezzo, tied with Joseph Odom for the team lead with 14 home runs this season, watched teammates Leo Rojas, Zach Woolcock and Jamill Moquette go deep against the visiting Strasburg Express in an 11-8 Valley Baseball League victory. Yezzo, for once, didn't hit one of his own but he did tally four hits to lead Winchester's potent lineup to another victory.
North Division-leading Winchester (30-13) pounced on Express starting pitcher Matt Verdillo in the first inning, as Rojas got the offense rolling with a leadoff homer to left-center field. It would get worse -- much worse -- for Verdillo as the Royals piled up eight runs in the first. Odom had a two-run double, Woolcock blasted a three-run homer and Garret Autrey plated a pair with a single to give Winchester a commanding lead.
"We just put some good swings on the ball," Yezzo said. "[Verdillo's] not bad. We just came out and got some hits tonight and got it rolling."
Facing a bleak night at Bridgeforth, Strasburg manager Butch Barnes did a little preaching from the bench.
"It's the first inning. You can't get rattled, you've just got to keep plugging away," Barnes said. "That's what we kind of preached to them. You know, it kind of worked. A couple more timely hits and it's a different ballgame."
It did indeed, as Strasburg (16-27) kept chipping away at the daunting deficit. Down 9-1 after two innings, the Express outscored the Royals 7-2 over the next five frames to make it an interesting night.
Strasburg nearly got closer in the top of the eighth. Trailing by three after a three-run outburst in the seventh, the Express got another rally going when Terry McClinton delivered a one-out single, then moved up a base when Erik Armstrong was hit by a pitch from Royals reliever Eric Green. Ryan Welling followed with a single to right field, and Barnes waved McClinton home to try for another run. It didn't work, as Winchester right fielder Logan Moon's throw was on-line and in plenty of time to gun down McClinton for the final out of the inning.
"It was a gigantic momentum swing," Winchester manager Steve Sabins said. "Moon's been doing it all year for us, and he's got the best arm in the Valley that I've seen."
"You never want to make [an out] there at the plate, but we had two outs and we needed to score a run," Barnes said. "That was my fault. I'll take the blame for that."
The Express mounted one last charge in the ninth as Jackson Boyd and Billy Motroni reached on back-to-back bunt singles with no outs against Royals reliever Patrick Bankemper. Josh Gardiner followed with a tailing fly ball that Royals center fielder Will Bynum dove to catch for the first out. Then Bankemper, a Sherando High School graduate who pitches for Liberty University, fanned Jay Lizanich and Zach Wiley to pick up his sixth save.
Radford's Woolcock, from just up the road in Martinsburg, W.Va., had a big night for the Royals. He was 3 for 4 with four RBIs. Odom added a three-RBI night. James Baune, who relieved starter Will Barrack in the third, pitched an inning to pick up the win.
"Strasburg's a good team and they're fighting for a playoff run," Sabins said. "They took advantage of any pitch we missed. We just did a nice job tonight. We had zero errors, and usually when we have zero errors we've got a really good chance of winning the ballgame."
Boyd led Strasburg with a 3 for 5 effort and three RBIs. Gardiner also had three hits as the Express matched the potent Winchester attack with 16 hits.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Strasburg still has a shot at reaching the playoffs for the first time in the team's two-year existence.
"Our destiny's in our own hands," Barnes said. "If we go out and win the next two, we're in. It's up to us. We've got to go out and execute."