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Royals crown River Bandits in playoff series opener

By Brad Fauber - bfauber@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Woodstock became the latest victim of the hot-hitting Winchester Royals in Game 1 of the best-of-three Valley Baseball League North Division championship series on Monday.

The top-seeded Royals, known for hitting the ball out of the park, recorded 22 hits in the 15-2 win over the No. 3 River Bandits -- surprisingly, not a single ball left the yard. Instead, Winchester displayed what could be considered its version of small ball, as the Royals banged out 16 singles during the rout.

"Usually, our game is the long ball -- getting a couple of guys on and hitting it over the fence," said Royals manager Steve Sabins. "Tonight, we incorporated walks, a lot of singles. At the end of the day, everything fell into place for us."

Woodstock, on the other hand, couldn't buy a hit. The River Bandits tallied just three hits in the game -- two of which came courtesy of center fielder Quinn Nofziger -- and didn't have a runner reach base after Adrian Rivera drew a two-out walk in the top of the fourth inning.

Winchester had five players record three or more hits, and eight of the nine Royals starters recorded at least one base hit.

"They can just hit," said River Bandits manager Phil Betterly. "We just had some tough breaks. Some guys missed good pitches, but they still hit the ball. You just have to tip your cap to them."

Woodstock (22-25) actually jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first after a shaky defensive inning for the Royals. River Bandits shortstop Nick Walker reached on two-base error to start the game and moved to third on a wild pitch by Winchester starter James Baune. Walker then scored on a single by Nofziger.

But Winchester (34-13) bounced right back with four runs in the bottom of the first, helped out by a pair of Woodstock errors. Leo Rojas (3 for 6, four runs scored) reached second on an error to begin the inning and scored on Brad Picha single to tie the game at 1-1. The Royals batted around in the inning while scoring three more times.

"We know that it's going to take more than one run to beat us, so we don't really worry about [falling behind early]," said Royals left fielder Garrett Autrey, who went 3 for 4 with three RBIs. "We just relaxed and came back."

Winchester added three more runs in the second inning to take a 7-1 lead and Woodstock scratched out a run in the top of the third on a sacrifice fly by Cody Harris that scored Nofziger.

Winchester put the game well out of reach with a six-run fifth inning. The first six Royals batters got a hit and scored in the inning to push the lead to 14-2.

Woodstock starter Chris Thorsen, making his first start of the season, didn't survive the fourth-inning outburst and was pulled for James Scott.

Thorsen allowed 12 runs, nine earned, on 15 hits in his four-plus innings. Scott pitched the final five innings and gave up three runs (two earned).

Baune gave the Royals six strong innings, allowing just one earned run on three hits while striking out six. Stephen Cooke and Stewart Jones combined to pitch the final three innings, and neither allowed a runner to reach base.

"Baune was excellent, he had a really rough first inning because we didn't play defense behind him," Sabins said. "It really takes a warrior to not give in there and continue to work.

"Cooke and Jones did an excellent job treating it like it was a 1-0 ballgame and coming in and doing their job."

The River Bandits must turn around and face Winchester again in Game 2 at Woodstock at 7:30 p.m. Betterly said Willi Martin, who will start on the mound for Woodstock, is up to the task of slowing down the Royals' hot bats.

"[I told them] to shake it off. I'm proud of the way they kept playing," Betterly said. "They've just battled all year and we're going to get after it tomorrow."

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