By Jeff Nations
NEW MARKET -- New Market Rebels starting pitcher Aaron Cressley can be scored upon, as it turns out.
The Staunton Braves proved that much, at least, in an otherwise thoroughly dominating night by the Rebels' ace right-hander during New Market's 4-1 victory in the Game 1 of their Valley Baseball League quarterfinal round playoff series.
Cressley was masterful for eight innings, allowing just a bad-hop run in the fifth to lead the host Rebels to the victory over their North division rivals on Sunday at Rebel Park.
The Rebels made Braves starter Aaron Weisberg work hard in his eight-inning effort, pounding out 13 hits against the big right-hander who's given them fits most of the summer.
"It was just obviously our night offensively to get on time with [Weisberg's] pitches. Every base runner, I think, is precious, but I have extreme confidence that no matter what we're going to try to put at least 10 to 15 guys on base," New Market manager C.J. Rhodes said. "If we can get four or five of them around, then I think we'll end up on the positive side just because of how good our pitching has been. I mean, it's been dominant."
Second-seeded New Market (29-15) struck early with a first-inning run to grab the quick lead. T.J. Costen led off with a single against Weisberg, and two batters later Derek Peterson delivered a two-out single into right field to drive in the run.
Staunton (24-21) finally broke through in the top of the fifth, with a bit of luck and a little help from the Rebels. James Vasquez led off with a liner to center field that might have been playable had New Market outfielder Costen gotten a good read on the ball. Instead, it sailed over his head for a leadoff double. The Braves promptly cashed in when Tommy Williams hit a routine grounder toward second that took a wicked hop after hitting the lip of the infield and sailed into right field for a single that drove in the run. Cressley escaped further trouble by inducing a double play before striking out Zack Fisher to end the inning.
The earned run was the first allowed by Cressley since June 15.
"That one Vasquez hit, I'll give him credit, he hit it hard," Cressley said. "Line drives are hard to read. It's just one of those things. The other one was just one of those New Market bounces."
New Market, which scattered seven hits against Weisberg over the first five innings, finally put a few together in the sixth. Kevin Casey led off with a single and Peterson followed with another to put runners at the corners, and Ben Schmucker delivered the go-ahead run with a sacrifice fly to right. Two batters later, Ray Lopez drove in another run with a single to right to put the Rebels up, 3-1.
Landon Prentiss used his speed to deliver another run for the Rebels in the bottom of the eighth. With two outs, Prentiss hit a scorcher past Braves third baseman Zack Fisher and stretched it into a double by beating the throw back. Nick Lustrino followed with yet another single off Weisberg, and Prentiss easily scored from second.
That capped a solid night for Prentiss, the Rebels' right fielder from VCU. He was 3-for-4.
"Normally we can't really find the groove, but today balls were dropping, balls were getting through," Prentiss said. "Even though we only ended up getting four runs, 13 hits is pretty good."
It was plenty of backing for Cressley, a righty from Pitt-Bradford. He allowed just those two dubious hits while striking out nine and allowing just one walk in his eight innings. Rebels closer Adam Zipko pitched an uneventful ninth, striking out two of the three batters he faced to earn the save.
"I got ahead, which is the main thing any pitcher wants to do is get ahead," Cressley said of his outing. "I missed some bats - I don't know how many strikeouts I had, but I know I only had one walk. My strikeout-to-walk ratio was pretty good, so I'm going to be happy with that any day."
Game 2 shifts to Staunton tonight. Justin Cooper will start for the Rebels. If a third game is necessary, Cory Rhodes would start on the mound Tuesday night for New Market.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>