By Jeff Nations
NEW MARKET -- It could well have been billed "The Battle of the Aarons" on Wednesday night at Rebel Park.
New Market sent out ace right-hander Aaron Cressley to face off against Staunton's towering righty Aaron Weisberg in a pivotal Valley Baseball League South Division matchup, and for seven innings they battled to a standstill.
When both Aarons finally exited by the eighth inning, it was Staunton that took advantage by plating a pair of runs over the final two innings to pull out a 2-0 victory.
Though neither starter factored in the final decision, both Cressley and Weisberg set a stifling tone when they were on the mound.
Weisberg, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound righty from George Washington University, mowed through the Rebels for 6 2/3 innings, allowing only five hits and a walk while striking out six.
Cressley, who lowered his ERA from 0.93 to 0.75 with seven scoreless innings, was every bit as dominant. The Pitt-Bradford rising junior fanned nine while allowing four hits and three walks.
"Both of them were super competitive and super in command of the game," New Market manager C.J. Rhodes said. "I know, on my end, there's a chance for [Cressley] to get credit for that. I didn't want to extend him too far."
Weisberg left with a bit of trouble in the seventh after allowing a leadoff walk the Rebels' Ray Lopez. With a pair of stolen bases, Lopez was within 90 feet of the game's first run. Braves reliever Mitchell Wade would have none of it, striking out T.J. Costen to end the threat.
Rhodes said Weisberg generates plenty of downward plane on his fastball thanks to his height, making his go-to pitch that much harder to square up.
"We saw him at their place for the first time, and our guys said the angle just made it that much more heavy because of how low down the mound he was releasing it," Rhodes said. "I think the change-up was probably the best secondary pitch he had tonight. I didn't really see the slider working for him, but with that fastball and the depth, being able to come out of that same slot with a little bit of a change in speeds, I think that was huge."
Staunton (22-13) immediately jumped on Rebels reliever Jake Perkins in the top of the eighth inning. Blake Sipp drew a leadoff walk and James Vasquez followed with a double down the first-base line to put runners in scoring position with no outs.
Perkins then intentionally walked Bryant Hayman to load the bases and set up a force out at any base. He struck out Tommy Williams for the first out, but pinch hitter Michael Adkins drove in a run with a groundout to second. Perkins limited the damage from there by striking out Josh Sharpe with the bases loaded to end the inning.
New Market (23-12) tried to get that run right back in the bottom of the inning. Nick Lustrino worked a leadoff walk against Wade, and one out later Derek Peterson also drew a walk to put two runners aboard. Landon Prentiss hit into a fielder's choice to erase Peterson and put runners on the corners.
Prentiss took off on a delayed double steal, but Adkins -- who replaced starting catcher Jake Fryman in the eighth and had the RBI groundout -- delivered a strong, accurate throw to gun down Prentiss and end the inning.
Rhodes said Prentiss knew to slow down and force a rundown if he thought he couldn't successfully steal the base, which would have allowed Lustrino to score from third. Instead, Prentiss thought he could beat the throw.
"It was a gamble, huge gamble," Rhodes said. "But that's something that we've done all year is we've continued to run and run. Whether we're up by six or down by six, we're still going to put pressure on teams to make plays."
The Braves tagged on an insurance run in the top of the ninth. Quinn Bower led off with a single and pinch hitter Frank Grandinette followed with a double off New Market reliever Josh Falbo to put two runners in scoring position with no outs. Falbo nearly escaped that serious jam by inducing a pair of groundouts, then intentionally walked Vasquez to set up another force out at any base. Instead, Falbo uncorked a wild pitch to Hayman and Bower came in to score.
In the bottom of the ninth, the Rebels rallied one last time. Lopez drew a one-out walk, and one out later Walker Haymaker doubled off Chris Huffman to put runners at second and third. Huffman nailed down the save after that by getting T.J. Costen on a ground out back to the mound.
"My mindset for them is to understand that this is what we go through, and you've just got to be able to ride the low and be able to catch it back on the high side," Rhodes said. "Because by the time we hopefully get it going, we'll be in the playoffs and that'd be the right time to get hot."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>