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River Bandits hammer Cardinals in blowout win

By Dennis Atwood - sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- The visiting Woodstock River Bandits scored a season-high 16 runs on 17 hits, including a grand slam and four doubles, to crush the Front Royal Cardinals, 16-2, in Valley League baseball action Thursday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The River Bandits sent 15 batters to the plate in a blowout, nine-run second inning.
Catcher Scott Burkett, the ninth Woodstock batter of the inning, came to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, with Cardinals reliever Ben McKinney newly arrived on the mound.

Burkett sent McKinney's 1-1 pitch far over the left-field wall for a grand slam, putting Woodstock up 10-0.

"There was a little bit of extra juice running the bases after that one," Burkett said. "It was my first grand slam in my college career. That was a great inning. Hitting is contagious.

"Hopefully we can put it together and make a good run to the playoffs."

Before Burkett's slam, Michael Vinson, Ethan Williams, and Cody Harris each hit an RBI single in succession.

Woodstock's onslaught wasn't over as they sent 10 batters to the plate in a five-run fourth inning, with the biggest blows coming with two outs, via an Ethan Williams two-run double, followed by a two-run single off the bat of Cody Harris.

Ethan Williams finished with a 3-for-5 evening, with two doubles, four RBIs, and three runs, improving his team-leading batting average from .354 to .364.

"I'm trying to just keep things simple and play see-the-ball, hit-the-ball," Williams said. "It was kind of an all-around thing. Lots of guys had great at-bats, battled and put me in a position to be able to have that kind of night."

Front Royal starter Harrison Cooney was tagged for nine runs (eight earned) on six hits, and fell to 1-3 with the loss.

It was Kyle McCullough's second start in seven appearances on the mound for the River Bandits, and he pitched five innings of shutout ball, scattering four hits, striking out six and issuing three walks to improve to 2-2.

Woodstock (15-18) broke a three-game losing streak, and held on to third place in the North Division.

Front Royal (13-21) remained in fifth place with 10 games left in the regular season in the race to qualify for the playoffs.

The win gives Woodstock a 4-1 lead in the head-to-head season series against the Cardinals.

The Cardinals got six hits and entered Thursday's contest with a second-best in the league 3.90 team ERA, but were last in team batting average at .248.

Chris Gruarin got the Cardinals on the board with a two-run homer, his sixth of the season, over the right field wall in the seventh.

Other bright spots for Front Royal were Luis Renvill (1-for-4) extending his hitting streak to seven games, and designated hitter David Atwood (1-for-2) extending his streak to six games, batting .571 during the skein.

Front Royal collectively tied a VBL season high with 20 hits in a 14-9 win at Luray on Tuesday, but managed only six hits while giving up 18 in an 11-2 home loss to Waynesboro on Wednesday.

The River Bandits have 11 games remaining in the regular season, one against South Division squad Covington.

The Cardinals have 10 games remaining, all against North Division rivals, in which to lock up a playoff spot by finishing fourth or higher in their division.

"Everything came together for us and the bats definitely came alive," Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. "We've been hitting all year. We had some good at-bats and it kept the momentum going for [McCullough]. He pitched five scoreless, threw strikes, and that keeps our offensive momentum going.

"This really builds momentum going against rival Strasburg [Friday]. We hope to get another good pitching performance."

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