By Jeff Nations
WOODSTOCK -- The Woodstock River Bandits proved their quality throughout the long summer in the Valley Baseball League.
The River Bandits won the Northern division regular-season title, earned a national ranking for the first time in franchise history and landed a slew of players on the VBL all-star roster.
In a three-game series, though, the Aldie Senators proved just a bit better by downing Woodstock 6-2 in the decisive third game to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
The loss to the fourth-seeded Senators ended Woodstock's season.
"Our guys played hard all year, and they have accomplished so much as a team," River Bandits manager Phil Betterly said. "They brought a division title to this organization. We've had a lot of firsts -- we've been ranked in the country, which has never happened before. We won the first division title. We had a ton of guys on the all-star team. We had guys make all-Valley. The main thing is they came out and competed every day, and I am proud of every single one of them."
Aldie came up with the decisive rally in the top of the ninth. Heading into that inning tied 2-2, the Senators got things started when Michael Miranda drew a leadoff walk from Ryan Griffith. A.J. Zarozny sacrificed him to second, then Griffith walked Andrew Seigel and Brett Charboneau to load the bases.
Betterly brought in Adam Lamar to quell the rally, and the lanky left-hander nearly did it. He struck out Austin Wobrock, then induced Jimmy Dowdell into weak contact into the infield. Dowdell's chopper took a funny bounce, forcing River Bandits third baseman Cody Queen to try for a force out at second. Instead, all runners were safe and the go-ahead run scored for Aldie.
"We're not the strongest offensive club, so what I've stressed to them all year is just put the ball in play, put pressure on people and good things will happen," Senators manager Erik Lemley said. "We've won a lot of games that way this year. We couldn't do it without strong pitching, which we had tonight."
Eason Spivey followed Dowdell by plopping a double into left to score two more runs, and Chris Hueth followed with an RBI single to complete the rally. Spivey was thrown out trying for home on Hueth's hit to end the inning .
Drew Cole kept Woodstock's faint hopes alive in the bottom of the ninth with a two-out single, but Aldie reliever Kenny Ball got Steven Karkenny to fly out to end it.
The River Bandits opened the scoring in the bottom of the second inning. Steven Karkenny swatted a leadoff single to left field, and one out later scored from second on Brian Mauro's single to center off Aldie starter Graham Tebbit.
Woodstock looked to add onto that lead in the fourth. Nick Walker delivered a lead-off single, then moved to second on Drew Cole's sacrifice bunt. Karkenny followed with a single to shallow right. Walker tried to score from second, but Aldie right fielder Chris Hueth's off-line throw arrived well ahead of time. Walker swung wide of the plate to avoid catcher Michael Miranda's sweep tag, but never did get back to the plate as he tried to dive back in. Karkenny tried for second on the play, but Miranda recovered in time to throw a dart to the bag for the final out of the inning.
The Senators finally got to Woodstock starter Gregory Ostner in seventh. Michael Miranda stroked a two-out double down the third-base line to plate Hueth. That prompted Woodstock manager Phil Betterly to pull Ostner, and River Bandits reliever Armando Ruiz promptly gave up a single to A.J. Zarozny that plated the go-ahead run.
The River Bandits got that run back in the bottom of the eighth. Jordan Edgerton led off with a long fly ball to center. Maybe that gave Mauro ideas, because he followed with a line shot near the same spot that cleared the fence for a solo homer. Woodstock nearly added on when Cody Queen followed with a single, then advanced two bases on consecutive wild pitches by Tebbit. The big right-hander escaped further trouble by striking out pinch hitter Robert Jennings to end the inning.
Then came the ninth, and the end of Woodstock's season. Tebbit worked eight innings to earn the win. He struck out seven.
"That's the game of baseball," Betterly said. "Sometimes those things happen."
Aldie moves on to face Strasburg today in the first game of a three-game VBL semifinal series. Game time is 6:30 p.m. at First Bank Park in Strasburg.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>