By Brad Fauber
NEW MARKET -- Landon Prentiss was dealing with a little bit of frustration as he approached the plate for his final at-bat in New Market's playoff game Tuesday against visiting Staunton at Rebel Park.
No one could blame Prentiss for feeling a little agitation -- the right fielder from Virginia Commonwealth University had struggled against the Braves' pitching staff all game, going hitless in his first five at-bats. Not to mention that the Rebels and the Braves found themselves deadlocked in a 3-all tie in the 13th inning, the second straight extra-inning affair between the two teams.
So when Prentiss stepped into the batter's box against newly-inserted Staunton reliever Frank Grandinette with runners on first and second and one out in the bottom of the 13th, he had just one thing on his mind -- get this game over with.
Prentiss did just that, as he snuck a grounder through the hole on the left side of the infield, allowing Derek Peterson to slide safely across the plate and give New Market a thrilling 4-3 walkoff win over Staunton.
The win gives the Rebels a 2-1 series victory over the Braves, advancing them to the South Division championship series, where they will square off with Waynesboro in a best-of-three series that begins tonight at Rebel Park.
"I hadn't gotten a hit all night, I had been struggling a little bit. To be honest, I just kind of wanted to get out of here," Prentiss said. "I just wanted to move something hard and it got through. I guess they were playing double-play depth, I would assume, because I thought I hit it right to the shortstop. I was locked in, I can tell you that."
Prentiss may have delivered the game-winning hit, but perhaps the real hero for New Market on Tuesday was reliever Adam Zipko.
Zipko, who has served as the Rebels' closer this season, pitched a season-high 5 2/3 innings of relief to get the win. The righty from Millersville University came on in relief with two runners on and one out in the top of the eighth inning and was untouchable all night, limiting Staunton to just one hit while striking out four batters.
The Braves' lone hit off Zipko came in the top of the 13th on a fly ball off the bat of Phil Lipari that landed just inside the left-field line, but Rebels left fielder Ben Schmucker negated the hit by gunning down Lipari at second as he tried to stretch the single into a double.
"My approach is always the same, just fill up the strike zone. I thought I did a good job of that," Zipko said. "That play by Schmucker can't be praised enough. That was a heckuva play.
"Everything was working well -- the slider was working, I had a lot of hitters off-balance. But enough can't be said about the infield as well tonight. They did a great job behind me."
The game appeared like it was going to be a slugfest early on, as New Market quickly raced out to a 3-1 lead after two innings behind seven hits off Staunton starter Nick Corbin.
The Rebels' lead could have probably been larger, however, but some over-aggressiveness on the basepaths early on erased several New Market baserunners.
Rebels designated hitter Kevin Casey started the early barrage with an RBI double with one out in the bottom of the first inning, but he was thrown out trying to move to third on the throw to the plate from right field.
Schmucker followed later in the inning with an RBI single to right that scored Peterson (3-for-6, double) but Schmucker was also thrown out trying to advance to second on the throw home.
In the second inning, Ray Lopez -- who had delivered an RBI single earlier in the inning -- was thrown out at the plate by several feet trying to score on a single by Walker Haymaker.
"It's just all a learning experience for the guys and we're going to encourage it," Rebels manager C.J. Rhodes said of New Market's aggressiveness on the bases. "We've been doing it all summer, so it's kind of hard to pump the brakes now just because it's playoff time."
New Market's bats went cold after the early outburst that included three doubles, as the Rebels went hitless for six straight innings before Schmucker delivered a one-out single in the 11th.
That allowed Staunton to claw back into the game, and the Braves scored a run each in the third and fifth innings off New Market starter Cory Rhodes to tie the score at 3-all.
"It was one of those things where as a hitter, I think you end up maybe getting outside yourself," C.J. Rhodes said. "Guys saw the ball so well in their first AB, and I think as they got to their second AB and their third, they realized [Corbin] was making adjustments on the mound. That's just the nature of the game."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org