By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal had plenty of opportunities to knock off Charles Town on Thursday night, but came up short.
The Cardinals stranded nine runners over the last four innings in an 8-7 loss to the Cannons in Valley Baseball League action.
Despite the loss, Front Royal manager Jake Weghorst was happy with his team's performance. The Cardinals were down 8-3 at one point, but battled back to make a game of it.
"We came up short, but I told them, 'You competed 100 percent the entire game,'" Weghorst said. "We had some chances. We probably could have put it away. We left some guys on bases -- that's going to happen. But the fact that we made that game come down to the last out, the last pitch, that's all I can ask for."
Things started off well for Front Royal. Brandon Tierney was hit by a pitch from Charles Town starter Mike Estevez to start the bottom of the first. Tierney stole second, and Andrew Seigel drew a walk. Tierney was later thrown out on an attempted double steal.
Anthony Gonzalez drew a walk, and Brent Morris followed with an RBI single for a 1-0 lead. Jose Torralba's two run single extended the lead to 3-0.
Charles Town responded in the top of the second. Charles Town's Emmanuel Marrero drew a walk from Front Royal starter Micah Dunn to start the inning. Luke Stewart followed with a double, and Kraig Kelley was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Charles Town's Tyler Hibbert drew a walk to cut the lead to 3-1. Front Royal's Aaron Moore came in to relieve Dunn and threw two wild pitches to score Kelley and Hibbert to tie the game at 3-3. Pat Ammar followed with an RBI groundout to give the Cannons a 4-3 lead.
The Cannons added to their lead in the top of the third. Charles Town's Brent Williams drew a one-out walk. Marrero followed with a double. A bunt RBI single by Stewart gave the Cannons a 5-3 lead. Marrero later scored on a double steal for a 6-3 lead.
"We did well, we got on base and had some good baserunning," Charles Town manager Bobby Rauh said.
Charles Town scored two more in the top of the fifth. Williams singled with one out. Marrero followed with an infield single. Williams and Marrero each stole a base to move into scoring position. Stewart's two-run single gave the Cannons an 8-3 lead.
The Cardinals battled back in the bottom of the fifth. Austin Brick and Derrik Walling had back-to-back singles off Charles Town reliever Clayton Payne to start the inning. One out later, Seigel singled to load the bases. A two-run single by Morris cut the lead to 8-5.
Payne, along with Ryan Morse finished off the game for the Cannons, and Rauh said he was really happy with their performance.
"I'm just really proud of the pitching staff," Rauh said. "Clayton Payne came out of the bullpen and gave us a solid four or five innings. Ryan Morse did a great job for us, too."
The Cardinals had opportunities in the closing innings. In the bottom of the sixth, Carl led off with a single. Garrett Flynn doubled off Payne. One out later, Walling was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Tierney then hit into a double play to end the inning.
In the bottom of the seventh, Seigel led off with an infield single off Morse. Gonzalez drew a walk, and a bunt single by Morris loaded the bases with no outs.
Two outs later, Flynn drew a walk to cut the lead to 8-6. Charles Town reliever Connor McClain came in and induced a groundout from pinch-hitter Justin Anderson to end the threat.
The Cardinals added another run in the bottom of the eighth. Tierney doubled with one out, and moved to third on a groundout. A dropped third strike to Gonzalez scored Tierney, as the throw to first was not in time to get Gonzalez, and cut the lead to 8-7. Morris followed with a single, but Torralba flied out to end the inning.
The Cannons (20-18) are still firmly in second place, and Rauh said he's pleased with how his team has done so far.
"I really think if we line up in the playoffs against anybody, I feel comfortable with our pitching," Rauh said. "We got the bats, we got the competitors, we got the pitching staff in the bullpen to go ahead and compete and beat anybody in this league."
The Cardinals (16-21) pounded out 12 hits in the loss, led by Morris with three. Weghorst said it was a real bright spot for his team despite the loss.
"We got a big stretch coming up against Aldie and Strasburg and Winchester -- teams that we need to beat," Weghorst said. "Every game is important, but the guys that are right next to us in the standings are must-win games. So this would be a great time for us to start getting on a roll, hitting-wise."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org