By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STRASBURG -- Matthew Fischgrund knew he was on a short leash on Wednesday night.
The Strasburg pitcher struggled in his last outing, and had a slow start in the first inning against Front Royal.
"I was thinking 'here we go again,'" Fischgrund said of his first-inning on Wednesday. "I look over at the bench he's got guys running down to the pen. I'm thinking 'I'm not getting out of this.'"
Fischgrund did get out of the inning, and settled down to lead Strasburg to a 6-1 Valley Baseball League win over the Cardinals.
"I told myself to just relax and breathe, take a breath," Fischgrund said.
Fischgrund looked sharp the rest of his performance. He pitched six innings, allowing just three hits, while striking out four. He didn't face more than four batters in an inning.
He was also helped by Ryan Welling, who had a big game at the plate for the Express. Welling had five RBIs, including his second home run of the season.
In the bottom of the fourth, Cameron Johnson and Tyler McDonald had back-to-back one-out singles off Front Royal starter Dalton Potts.
Welling then drilled a 1-1 pitch over the fence for a three-run homer and giving the Express a 3-0 lead.
"When I went up for that at-bat I knew he was going to throw me a change-up at some point," Welling said. "He struck me out with that in my first at-bat. I was sitting on a change-up and he left it up, and I was able to hit it over the fence."
The Express added to the lead in the bottom of the fifth. Jordan Tarsovich led off with an infield single. Terry McClinton's sacrifice bunt moved Tarsovich to second. Teddy Payne and Erik Armstrong each reached on an error to score Tarsovich for a 4-0 lead.
One out later, McDonald drew a walk to load the bases for Welling. Front Royal's Logan Traylor came on in relief of Potts, and Welling greeted him with a two-run single to extend the lead to 6-0.
"I've been feeling comfortable at the plate," Welling said. "I've been getting a good pitch to hit, and I haven't been missing. I've been more aggressive lately, swinging at my pitch and getting more comfortable."
The Cardinals had a chance to get back in the game in the top of the eighth. Brandon Tierney led off with a single off of Strasburg reliever David Hafer. One out later, Austin Brick and Brent Morris each drew a walk to load the bases.
Strasburg's Brandon Hallford relieved Hafer and gave up an RBI single to Aaron Moore. Hallford then struck out J.J. McDaniel, and drew a groundout from Andrew Murphy.
"We had some guys get on. We just couldn't knock them in again," Front Royal manager Jake Weghorst said. "We gotta move past this one and figure out what we need to do to beat Charles Town tomorrow."
The Cardinals (16-20) had only five hits in the game. Tierney had two of the hits to lead the way.
Front Royal drops to fifth place a game behind Strasburg for the last playoff spot.
"They know it's close. We all know it's close," Weghorst said of the standings. "I think I'm just going to stop looking at the standings. We just gotta win, no matter who we play -- Charles Town Woodstock, Strasburg, Winchester Aldie -- it doesn't matter. We have to beat all of them. Every time we lose it puts more pressure on us."
The Express (16-18) went on a hot streak last year at the end of the regular season to make it into the playoffs, and Welling, who was on that team, said he thinks they are ready to do it again this year.
"I think we're in shape to do that again this year," Welling said. "I feel like we're going to be a force once we get in the playoffs -- maybe run the table and win the thing."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org