By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Front Royal's offense has struggled to produce runs, forcing the Cardinals to rely on pitching to keep them afloat in the Valley Baseball League playoff hunt as the midway point of the season quickly approaches.
For nearly seven innings of Monday's game against Winchester, Cardinals starter Matt Daniels gave Front Royal just what it needed, carrying a no-hitter through the first 6 2/3 innings and appearing in complete control on the mound with the Cardinals holding a three-run lead.
But things unraveled quickly for Front Royal, and Winchester struck for five runs during a two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh inning to send the Cardinals to a disappointing 5-3 loss.
"We had a 3-0 lead and I think our guys were sitting back, happy because our guy had a no-hitter. And all the sudden we are down two scrapping for runs," Cardinals manager Jake Weghorst said. "The bottom line is you've got to give them credit. They scored five runs with two outs -- when you need to win games, you've got to have innings like that where you hit the ball, you walk. They did a great job -- they got us for one inning."
Daniels was nearly untouchable for the duration of his start, as he allowed just two baserunners to reach via walks in through six innings and struck out nine Royals batters.
Daniels seemed in good shape to keep Front Royals' 3-0 lead intact by quickly getting the first two outs of the seventh, but Royals right fielder Tyler Rocklein connected on a soft liner to center that broke up the no-hit bid with two away.
Things then got messy for Front Royal, as Daniels hit Luke Gragg on the next pitch and dealt a walk to Edgar Michelangeli to load the bases. Royals No. 8 hitter Wesley Hoover then worked a six-pitch walk to score Rocklein and cut the Cardinals' lead to 3-1.
"That's the first time he really got rattled all day. It was like after he gave up the hit he just kind of lost it out there, he didn't know exactly where he was throwing it," Weghorst said.
Daniels threw a ball on his first pitch to Nick Lacik in the next at-bat, prompting Weghorst to turn to Logan Traylor, who was acquired by Front Royal on Monday after he was released by Charles Town.
Traylor's first pitch as a Cardinal was ripped into left-center field by Lacik for a two-RBI double that tied the game at 3-3, and Royals lead-off man J.D. Long followed with a two-RBI single to right field to give Winchester (7-17) a 5-3 lead.
"That's kind of the mark of the season for us, actually. We come from behind a lot, it's kind of been the trademark of the team," Royals coach Kyle Phelps said. "The guys just grinded. [Daniels] was good. He dominated, he was controlling all his off-speed pitches."
Front Royal had an opportunity for a rally of its own in the top of the ninth inning, as three straight singles by Aaron Moore, Justin Anderson and Ben Carl loaded the bases with none out against Winchester reliever Neil Lawler.
But Lawler responded by getting Mike Tomlinson to pop out to short before recording back-to-back strikeouts to end the game. It was a frustrating ending for a Cardinals team that struck out 10 times in the game.
Front Royal (10-15) did manage three runs against Royals starting pitcher Jonathan Ferrendelli during his seven innings of work, but needed the help of two Winchester errors to do so. The Cardinals repeatedly chased fastballs up and away from Ferrendelli, who finished with eight strikeouts and allowed just four hits.
"Our two-strike approach needs to get better. We weren't hitting the fastball, [Ferrendelli] was throwing it up and we were swinging at it," Weghorst said. "Give him credit, because he kept going there and we couldn't hit it."
Front Royal scored the first run of the game in the top of the third when Jose Torralba reached on an error and scored on a one-out triple by Andrew Seigel. The Cardinals added another run in the fifth on another Winchester error.
Torralba's RBI single with two-outs in the top of the seventh gave Front Royal a 3-0 lead.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com