Armstrong’s homer propels Express past Cannons

By Spenser Leatherman —

CHARLES TOWN — Everything rolled along smoothly for the first-year Charles Town Cannons in their historic first Valley Baseball League playoff game Sunday night — except for a rain delay.

Then came the eighth inning.

Leading 1-0, Charles Town pitcher Connor McClain of Central Arkansas issued a pair of two-out walks and University of South Carolina Beaufort’s Erik Armstrong cleared the bases with a towering home run to left field, and, like a flash of lightning, the Strasburg Express took control and went on to a 5-1 victory in the first game of the best-of-three series.

The Cannons opened fire quickly, putting runners on base in the early innings, but they only brought in one run, while stranding 10 runners on the basepaths.

L.K. Thompson of Florida International reached on a single and advanced on an errant throw during a sacrifice bunt attempt by Marc-Richard Culmer of West Virginia Tech. A second sacrifice bunt by Central Arkansas’ Kraig Kelly moved Thompson to third before Alabama State’s Emmanuel Marrero brought in the first run of the game.

That run by Charles Town remained the only run on the board heading into the hour-long rain delay, when the field was cleared and tarped midway through the fifth inning.

Liberty’s Adam Parks pitched five scoreless innings before the delay and two more afterward, striking out nine Express batters.

Following the seventh inning, McClain entered the game for the Cannons.

McClain retired the first two batters of the inning with a strikeout looking and a groundout to second, respectively, before giving up walks to Jordan Tarsovich of the Virginia Military Institute and Patrick McGavin of Samford.

Armstrong hit the three-run homer to left-center to give the Express their first lead of the night.

Strasburg added a pair of runs in the top of the ninth, taking advantage of the Cannons’ two lone errors to stretch the lead to four runs.

Strasburg retired the order in the bottom of the ninth to end the game.

Bowling Green’s Andrew Kubuski singled, and an error put Anthony Payne of West Virginia State on base. Tyler McDonald of Millersville also reached on a second bad throw, running all the way to third base, bringing in Kubuski. Payne was thrown out at the plate, however.

McDonald scored on a passed ball to give Strasburg the 5-1 lead.

Game 2 is tonight at Strasburg. A third game, which Charles Town hopes
will be necessary, will be played Tuesday night at Sager Field.