By Dennis Atwood -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WOODSTOCK -- The Woodstock River Bandits, in their 10th year in the Valley League, clinched their first-ever North Division championship four games before the end of the regular season.
Woodstock then rested some starters and lost its last three games, including both games of a doubleheader against Aldie on Wednesday, and a 7-1 loss to South Division champ Harrisonburg, to finish with a 26-17 record.
In the first game in a best two out of three quarterfinal playoff game against the Senators Sunday night, the River Bandits whacked 6 doubles and a home run among their 12 hits, to top the Senators 9-5.
Aldie jumped out on top in the first inning, putting two on the board as Woodstock starting pitcher Matt Hockenberry (Temple) got behind every hitter.
Austin Wobrock singled and stole second, then Jimmy Dowdell (Boston College) drove him in with a line-shot single off the centerfield fence and took second on the throw.
One out later Matthew Malacane singled in Dowdell (3-for-5, two RBI, run) for a 2-0 lead.
Woodstock answered immediately as Kyrie Washington (Longwood) laced a leadoff single and, one out later, Drew Cole (UNC-Pembroke) sent a 3-1 pitch over the center field fence to knot the score at 2-2.
Hockenberry got in the groove by getting a first pitch strike on every batter in the second inning, retiring the side in order, and shut out the Senators through the sixth inning.
With two earned runs on six hits, eight strikeouts, and two walks, Hockenberry improved to 3-1.
"I think I was trying to be too fancy coming into this game," Hockenberry said. "I was throwing a lot of off-speed pitches instead of attacking them with the fastball.
"That's exactly what I did to get ahead, threw first pitch fastballs, then once I got ahead, it set up my off-speed stuff."
In the third inning, Woodstock got to Aldie starter Riley Barr (NM State) with four doubles to score three runs.
Washington led off with a first pitch double to right-center, Nick Walker followed with a double to the right field corner, plating Washington.
Two outs later, Jordan Edgerton sent his double to left field, driving in Walker, and Brian Mauro finished the doubles parade with one to center scoring Edgerton with the third run.
Washington went 4-for-5 with two doubles, three runs, and two stolen bases to improve his batting average from .234 to .256.
"Actually, we haven't been taking batting practice [since Thursday]," Washington said. "We just showed up and winged it. I did go to a Red Sox at Orioles game, and that was useful.
"Tonight, I just sat off-speed and reacted fastball because these guys aren't going to blow it by you."
The River Bandits scored three more in the fifth, on three hits, a hit batter and a fielder's choice.
The first four batters reached safely, with designated hitter Mauro driving in two with a single and Jerrod Groves plating the third run with a fielder's choice, expanding Woodstock's lead to 8-2.
Adam Lamar relieved Hockenberry in the seventh and had a rough outing, as Aldie sent eight batters to the plate to score three runs on four hits, changing a comfortable 8-2 lead into an 8-5 save situation.
Adam Zarozny drew a one-out walk, followed by four consecutive singles by Brett Charboneau (3-for-5, run), Wobrock (3-for-4, two runs), Dowdell and Charlie Dennehey.
Dowdell got one RBI and Dennehey drove in two in the outburst.
Armando Ruiz (Alabama State) came in to pitch for the River Bandits in the eighth and held the Senators scoreless, striking out four and yielding two harmless singles over last two innings.
Ruiz would have picked up his third save, except Woodstock scored another run in the bottom of the eighth, to take an a 9-5 lead and make it a hold.
Joining Washington with multi hit nights were Cole (2-for-3, home run, two doubless, two RBI, two runs), Edgerton (3-for-4, two runs, RBI), and Mauro (2-for-3, three RBI).
Barr gave up eight runs on 10 hits, four strikeouts, three walks, and a hit batsman to drop to 1-4 wofith the loss.
The squads split their regular season series, 3-3.
In its final game of the regular season, Saturday afternoon, Aldie lost to the league's worst team, Winchester, 2-1, to finish at 22-22, in fourth place.
That result led to the cancellation of the scheduled evening game between New Market and Strasburg, leaving the Express with a 22-21 record and in third place by default.
Woodstock also tangled with the Senators, then located at Haymarket, in last year's first round playoff, and took the series 2-1, before losing the first two of three to Winchester in the semi-finals.
"We've been hittin' the ball good all year and Adam [Lamar's] been good for us all year, he just didn't have his best stuff tonight, left some pitches up, and he's gonna' come out next time and do well," River Bandits manager Phil Betterly said.
"Hockenberry did well and our guys executed on offense, they got aggressive and hit good pitches.
"Richard Winters [5-0, league leading 0.44 ERA] will start for us in the next game."
Woodstock plays at Aldie tonight.