By Tommy Keeler Jr.
WINCHESTER -- With the regular season top seed already wrapped up, the Winchester Royals could easily have just went through the motions at the end of the season. In their regular-season finale against Front Royal, the Royals showed no signs of letting up.
Jimmy Yezzo had two home runs as the Royals pounded out 17 hits and beat the Cardinals 9-1 in Valley Baseball League action on Wednesday.
"One thing I noticed about this team is that no matter if we're up 20 games in the standings or we're tied for first place, these guys want to win," Winchester pitcher Josh Frederick said. "We come out here every day, and we're all representing our colleges and the Winchester Royals and we want to do that well. And I think that's one of the reasons we're winning."
The Cardinals struck first with a run in the top of the first. Chris Gruarin was hit by a pitch from Frederick. Pat Talbut hit into a force out at second. Keaton Neeb drew a walk from Frederick and Jordan Lee singled to load the bases. After David Atwood popped out, Frederick balked in Gruarin to give the Cardinals the lead.
The Royals came right back in the bottom of the first. Leo Rojas led off with a single and then stole second. One out later, Jimmy Yezzo's groundout scored Rojas to tie the game.
Winchester took the lead in the bottom of the second. Jamill Moquette singled with one out off Front Royal starter Ben McKinney. Moquette moved to second on a wild pitch. A throwing error on Logan Moon's single scored Moquette for a 2-1 lead, but Moon was out trying to advance to second. Alan Filauro and Ethan Harris each followed with a single. Rojas then hit a two-run double down the left-field line.
The Royals added another run in the bottom of the third on a solo home run by Yezzo.
"[McKinney] got me in the first at-bat and I just wanted to make up for it," Yezzo said. "I was looking for a pitch that I wanted, and I ended up hitting a home run."
Winchester (31-13) broke the game wide open in the bottom of the fourth. Filauro drew a lead-off walk, and Harris followed with a single. Rojas then singled to load the bases. A wild pitch by McKinney scored Filauro. Zach Woolcock was then hit by a pitch to load the bases again.
Front Royal manager Clayton Kuklick then replaced McKinney with Ryan Hines. Yezzo greeted the new pitcher with a grand slam over the left-field fence for a 9-1 lead. It was Yezzo's league-leading 16th of the season.
"I ended up working the count, and I got a pitch that I wanted," Yezzo said. "I was just looking to get a fly ball and it just ended up going over."
Frederick pitched six innings, allowing only three hits, striking out two and walking three.
It was only the second start of the season for Frederick, who is normally a reliever. He said he started a lot in high school, but doesn't start much at Mount Olive College, either.
Once he had a lead, Frederick said it helped a lot.
"If you're up by 10 runs, you know that even if a guy gets on and you give up a run, it won't hurt you," Frederick said.
The Cardinals (16-27) have been struggling with their offense lately and that didn't change against the Royals. Front Royal only had three hits in the defeat.
"We just aren't aggressive enough early in the count," Kuklick said. "Winchester was aggressive at the plate, that's why they had 17 hits."
Talbut had two of the Cardinals' three hits.
The Cardinals are clinging to playoff hopes. They play at Haymarket today, and must win to have any chance of making the postseason.
"We have to come out [today] and get the win," Kuklick said. "That's the bottom line."
Yezzo finished 2-for-3 with six RBIs, while Rojas went 5-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored for the Royals.
The Royals will have at least one day off before the playoffs begin. The day off shouldn't hurt the focused Royals, who have high hopes for the season.
"We're ready for whoever we have to play," Frederick said. "We're ready for the playoffs and to try to win this town a championship."