By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- On a night when so much had to go right to keep their Valley Baseball League playoff hopes alive, nearly everything went wrong for the Front Royal Cardinals.
Needing a win against the Aldie Senators to retain control of their postseason destiny, the Cardinals instead bumbled their way to a 7-3 loss on Thursday night at Bing Crosby Stadium. That locked up a postseason spot for the Senators, and left Front Royal scoreboard watching after the game.
Front Royal (19-24) needed Strasburg to lose on Thursday night, then lose their remaining two games after that, plus the Cardinals had to win their final game on Friday just to force a tie-breaker. Strasburg wouldn't oblige, earning a 9-8 win in 10 innings over visiting Staunton to punch their own ticket to the playoffs and bounce Front Royal from the postseason.
The Cardinals committed three errors in the field, but had just as many costly mental errors against Aldie (21-21).
"A lot of mental errors," Front Royal manager Jake Weghorst said. "On a passed ball, a guy scores from second base. We bring the infield in and we think we're getting a force out at the plate. It's mental mistakes that just can't happen, especially in a game of this magnitude."
The Cardinals began leaking runs early, as the Senators tallied single scores in the second and third innings. Matt Malacane opened the scoring in the second when he came home on a wild pitch by Cardinals starter Justin Anderson, who did manage to escape much more trouble by striking out A.J. Zarozny with the bases loaded to end the inning.
Front Royal got that run back in the bottom of the second. Brandon Tierney singled leading off against Senators starter Junior Delatorre, and Aaron Moore followed with a chopper to third that Travis Ferrick scooped up before firing a throw wildly to first base. The resulting three-base error plated Tierney.
In the third, a passed ball led to another run when Front Royal catcher Garrett Flynn fell while chasing down the loose ball. That allowed Austin Wobrock, who'd reached on an error, to score from second.
Aldie benefited from another Front Royal mental lapse in the fourth after Chris Hueth and Michael Miranda led off with back-to-back singles, then moved up on Ferrick's sacrifice bunt. Brett Charbonneau slapped a grounder to the middle, but Cardinals shortstop Ben Carl threw to home plate thinking there was a force out in effect. There wasn't, and Hueth scored the run. Miranda then scored on Zarozny's sacrifice fly to boost Aldie's lead to 4-1.
The Senators, in their first year in Aldie after moving from Haymarket, effectively sealed the town's first VBL playoff experience with three more runs in the fifth off Cardinals reliever Wesley Cox. Malacane's RBI single, the third straight to open the inning, plated Jimmy Dowdell. Charlie Dennehey scored when Hueth reached on an error, and Malacane scored on Miranda's RBI groundout.
Malacane, a Loudoun County resident from South Riding, finished the night 2-for-5 with an RBI.
"I think it's a privilege to play on this team," Malacane said. "To be able to live at home and be able to do other stuff and be around my family and still be able to play in a great league, it's pretty awesome."
Front Royal did rally for two runs in the sixth against Delatorre. Randy Tallhamer doubled in a run, and another scored on yet another wild pitch. It wasn't nearly enough. Front Royal tallied only four hits on the night.
"They hit a couple balls hard, but they were doing such a good job of hitting the ball the other way and had a good two-strike approach," Weghorst said. "We were down early, and it's tough to come back when you get down by that much early in the game. And it's not like we were knocking the cover off the ball, either."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>