By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The top-seeded Winchester Royal benefited from excellent pitching and a barrage of big hits to dominate the fourth seed Strasburg Express, 14-2, in the first of a three-game Valley Baseball League playoffs North Division semifinal series Friday night at Bridgeforth Field.
Royals starting pitcher Janson Carr, a 6-foot-3, 230-pound rising sophomore at Southern Arkansas, worked six shutout innings, giving up two singles and one walk (on top of his league-leading low of five on the year), and struck out a league season-high tying 12 batters to improve to 6-1 on the year.
Carr used only 87 pitches, 60 for strikes, in his stellar outing.
"Everything was working for me," Carr said. "I just wish I could have stayed in longer. I had only reached  pitches. That sixth walk of the year was bigger to me than the twelve strikeouts. But our offense always gives plenty of support, so I feel comfortable out there."
Ironically, it was No. 9 hitter, center fielder Ethan Harris, from Central Arkansas, who led the 16-hit Winchester offense by going 4-for-5 with a three-run homer, a two-run triple and two singles, one for two RBIs. Harris' seven RBIs set a season team-high and tied the league-high.
Harris also turned in a web gem, sprinting in to his right and laying out to snag a looper off Terry McClinton's bat for the third Strasburg out in eighth, stranding a runner on second base.
"It felt good at the plate. I've been working on my swing the last couple of weeks -- I was struggling at first, it feels really good to finally work it out," Harris said.
The Royals (32-13) bashed four round-trippers, two solo shots by Joseph Odom, to tie teammate Jimmy Yezzo at 16 for the league lead.
Brad Picha added a dinger and the three-run shot from Harris brought Winchester's lead-best total to 74, far ahead of second-best Luray, which finished with 47 homers.
Yezzo, who came in hitting .386 and leading the league in six offensive categories, went 0-for-6.
Strasburg (17-27) starter Michael Helbig started out with good stuff and control, but couldn't withstand the Royals' onslaught, working 4 1/3 innings and giving up eight runs (seven earned) on 11 hits, with three strikeouts and two walks, to drop to 1-1.
Josh Gardiner led the six-hit Strasburg attack by going 2-for-5 with a triple and a run scored in the eighth.
Rain postponements and cancellations this week, piled on top of rescheduled games from earlier in the season, resulted in some teams not being able to complete all 44 regular season games.
The teams will play Game 2 of the three-game series at Strasburg tonight. Game time is 6:30 p.m.