By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- After a heartbreaking loss to Woodstock on Tuesday, New Market was looking for a nice rebound to keep its recent hot streak going against visiting Strasburg on Wednesday at Rebel Park.
The Rebels did just that, using a strong start from right-hander Aaron Cressley and a four-run fifth inning to hold off the Express for a 5-2 victory. New Market has now won 13 of its last 16 games.
It wasn't an overly impressive win for New Market, which stranded 10 baserunners offensively and committed five errors on defense, but Cressley's six shutout innings helped counteract any negative aspects of Wednesday's game.
"Even with 10 hits I feel like we still have some work to do with our approach offensively, and that just takes more reps. It's good to be able to work through those things and have Cressley give us the outing that he did," Rebels manager C.J. Rhodes said. "The pitching was able to balance out the offense."
Cressley, who hadn't pitched for New Market (21-10) in nearly two weeks after briefly leaving the team to tend to a family matter, didn't seem to have missed a beat against Strasburg (12-16).
The 6-foot-1 righty from the University of Pittsburgh-Bradford pitched well in his return, scattering four hits over six innings while walking one and striking out six. Cressley now owns a 0.93 ERA in five starts this season.
"I just went out there and pretty much did what I know how to do," Cressley said. "The first couple innings I was kind of leaving everything up, and after the second inning I started working down in the zone and they didn't really hit the ball as well as they did the first few innings. Making the adjustment and getting the ball down in the zone helped me through there."
Express starter Ashton Fronsoe, making just his second start this season, held the Rebels off the board in his first three innings of work before New Market manufactured a run in the bottom of the fourth.
New Market left fielder Ben Schmucker reached on an infield single with one out and moved to second on a Strasburg error, and a groundout by Landon Prentiss moved Schmucker to third with two outs.
Nick Lustrino (2-for-4, 2 RBIs) then followed by ripping an RBI infield single off the glove of Express first baseman Cameron Johnson, who couldn't make the diving stop along the first-base line, to give the Rebels a 1-0 lead.
New Market expanded its lead with a four-run outburst in the fifth, and Fronsoe's outing ended with two outs still remaining in the inning. Fronsoe allowed four earned runs on six hits and two walks while striking out three.
Fronsoe's start turned south quickly, as he gave up three consecutive hits on three pitches with one out in the inning before Strasburg manager Butch Barnes pulled him in favor of Brandon Hallford.
New Market's Brandon Gum started the rally with a one-out triple to left-center, and Kevin Casey quickly drove him home with a base hit up the middle. Schmucker followed with a base hit on a hit-and-run to put runners on the corners, prompting Barnes to turn to Hallford.
Hallford got Prentiss to strike out swinging, but a wild pitch on strike three allowed Prentiss to reach first and load the bases for Lustrino, who drove in a run on an infield single up the middle to give New Market a 3-0 lead.
Kevin Stypulkowski capped the rally with a two-RBI single to right field with two outs.
"We're really good on some nights, and I know you have good nights and bad nights, but we haven't had more consistent good nights than we've had consistent bad nights," Barnes said. "We're just not focused."
Strasburg finally managed to scrape two runs across the plate against New Market reliever Sean Rutherford in the top of the eighth thanks to three straight Rebel errors in the inning.
The Express scored its first run of the game when Anthony Payne lined a double into right-center that was misplayed, allowing Andrew Kubuski to score from first and Payne to slide safely into third with two outs. Another error on a ground ball by Johnson allowed Payne to score, cutting the lead to 5-2.
Tuesday's win allows the Rebels to keep pace with South Division-leading Harrisonburg, as New Market trails the Turks by just two games.
"[Harrisonburg] is about as competitive as they can be, and I think we can keep our own here if we keep playing the game we're supposed to play and just keep being the aggressive team that we are," Rhodes said. "I think [first place] is still in our grasp."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org