By Tommy Keeler Jr.
NEW MARKET -- Nick Lustrino knows if he's not in the starting lineup that he always has to be prepared to come off the bench if needed.
The New Market infielder was ready to go on Wednesday night, and he came up with two clutch hits to help the Rebels to an 8-5 victory over Covington in Valley Baseball League action. The Rebels also completed a suspended game from earlier in the season, and won that one 1-0 over the Lumberjacks.
"[New Market] Coach [C.J.] Rhodes always tells us to be ready. He even warned me during the game to be ready at all times," Lustrino said. "You just have to be ready."
Rhodes said he likes to switch his infielders around, and wanted to give Lustrino a break in the second game. However, in the middle of the game Brandon Gum told Rhodes he wasn't feeling well and Lustrino entered in the sixth inning.
"To have a guy like Nick ready like that off the bench is huge," Rhodes said.
With the game tied in the bottom of the eighth, New Market's Ryan Messina drew a one-out walk from Covington reliever Anthony Willeford. Ray Lopez followed with a single. A wild pitch moved runners to second and third.
T.J. Costen then drilled a pitch down the left-field line off the glove of Covington third baseman Eric Murphy to give the Rebels a 6-5 lead.
"I had been struggling the three previous at-bats, so my approach was just to fight from the first pitch. I fouled a couple balls off and ended up getting a decent pitch to hit.I got the barrel on it and luckily it got through."
Lustrino followed with a two-run single to give the Rebels some breathing room and an 8-5 lead.
"We had faced that guy before, so I knew he liked to go to his curveball, so I was looking at swinging at a curveball," Lustrino said. "At 1-2 [in the count], that's the pitch he gave me."
Covington (16-25) struck first with a run in the top of the first. Covington's Demetrius Moorer reached on a three-base error. A groundout RBI by Craig Nennig gave the Lumberjacks a 1-0 lead.
New Market (28-15) responded in the bottom of the first. New Market's Kevin Casey had a two-out single off Covington starter Roberto Baroniel. Derek Peterson reached on an error to score Casey and tie the game. Ben Schmucker followed with an RBI triple to give the Rebels a 2-1 lead.
The Rebels extended the lead in the bottom of the second. Kevin Stypolkowski hit his first home run of the season to give the Rebels a 3-1 lead.
The two teams traded runs in the third.
In the top of the seventh, the Lumberjacks closed the gap. Moorer led off with a triple down the right-field line off New Market reliever Josh Wood. Wood struck out the next two batters, but an RBI single by Gilbert cut the lead to 4-3.
The Rebels scored again in the bottom of the seventh. Lustrino doubled and Casey was hit by a pitch from Baroniel. Peterson hit into a fielder's choice to put runners on the corners. A wild pitch by Baroniel then gave the Rebels a 5-3 lead.
The Lumberjacks tied the game at 5-5 in the top of the eighth. Aaron Heusman reached on a one-out walk from Wood. John Pilla singled, but was later forced out at second on a ground ball by Eric Murphy. A passed ball scored Heusman to cut the lead to 5-4. A wild pitch moved Murphy to third. Moorer then reached on an error, allowing Murphy to score and tie the game at 5-5.
The Rebels won the first game on a Peterson sacrifice fly in the bottom of the eighth. The game picked up in the sixth inning with the game scoreless.
The win in the completion of the suspended game clinched second place in the South Division for the Rebels. New Market will host Staunton in the first round of the playoffs on Sunday at 7:30 p.m.
"The last 10 games have been a challenge for us," Rhodes said. "These kids are tired ... For me to see these kids to deal with the struggles and be able to ride the roller coaster of the ups and downs and really just not give up and not change our effort is what's exciting and the memorable lesson that these kids are going to leave here with."
In the second game, the Rebels were led by Gum, Casey, Stypolkowski and Lustrino with two hits each.
Lustrino said he was confident about the team heading into the playoffs.
"We started off the week a little slow, but we've rallied," Lustrino said. "We've grinded through it and we've put together a few good games these past few days. You can't ask for more going into the playoffs -- a little momentum."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com