By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Here's a sobering thought for the rest of the American Legion District 16 competition -- if Winchester Post 21 looks this solid short-handed, just how good will the team be when they reach full strength?
Really good, if Friday's 6-0 win over previously unbeaten Front Royal Post 53 is any indication. Winchester, still short six beach-going players and another who had to work, easily fended off Front Royal with a combination of dominating pitching, rock-solid defense and enough hitting to get the job done at R. Charles Hott Field.
Winchester pitchers Addison Barber, Daniel Malsch and Ethan Emmart blanked Post 53 through nine solid innings, giving Post 21 consecutive shutouts.
"Credit Addison, Daniel and Ethan for just going out and throwing strikes," Winchester assistant coach Kyle Smallwood said. "Our defense made plays all the way around, our pitchers made their pitches, and Chase [Smallwood] caught a heck of a game for us."
Winchester (4-0, 2-0 District 16) grabbed a quick lead against Front Royal starting pitcher Tyler Hott. Nick Goode led off the bottom of the first inning with an infield single, Ryan Hartigan drew a walk and Cody Unger drove in the game's first run with a single to center field.
Hott escaped more trouble with a nifty pickoff of Hartigan at second, then got Chase Smallwood to line into an inning-ending double play.
Post 21 could do little else against Hott, a right-hander who just graduated from Strasburg. Finally in the fifth, pinch hitter Taylor Loudan got Winchester's offense back in gear by drawing a two-out walk and promptly stealing second and third base. Good brought him home with a single to center, pushing Post 21's lead to 2-0 in Hott's final inning.
Post 53 coach Danny Wood knew Hott would have to come out earlier than normal after learning shortly before the game that the righty had pitched in an all-star game just two days before.
Winchester took advantage of a double-switch in the sixth, when Cody Unger ended up at second despite striking out to lead off the inning when the third strike got past catcher Hunter Partlowe and his ensuing throw to first was off the mark for a two-base error. Two batters later, Jake Rudolph singled in the run off reliever John Reith.
"We threw the ball around," Wood said. "Out of the six runs we gave up, four were unearned. I know that's part of the game, but you hate to see that."
Ryan Hartigan scored another run in the seventh on a two-error play, and another error in the top of the eighth opened the door for two more Post 21 runs. John Bentley and Malsch drove them in with singles.
Front Royal (4-1) generated just five hits in the loss. Barber, a left-hander from James Wood who worked six innings, picked up the win after allowing all five of those hits. He struck out nine in his six innings, Malsch followed with two strikeouts in his inning, and Emmart fanned all six batters he faced to close it out.
"You're not going to win any game if you don't hit," said Wood, whose squad struck out 17 times. "You've got to put the ball in play. I expect we'll see pitching at least as good, if not better, down the line."
Front Royal's best scoring chance came in the top of the fifth, when Hunter Stewart stroked a two-out triple off Barber. It didn't matter, as Barber struck out Chaz Rutherford to end the inning.
For Winchester, Bentley finished with a pair of hits and two RBIs. Goode and Unger added two hits and an RBI apiece.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>