Express power up to down Senators

By Jeff Nations

STRASBURG — Erik Armstrong counts Aldie starting pitcher Junior Delatorre as a friend, even if it didn’t seem that way Friday night at First Bank Park.

Armstrong, Strasburg’s starting right fielder, launched a pair of home runs off his University of South Carolina-Beaufort teammate to spark the Express to a lopsided 12-2 victory in the oft-delayed opening game of their best-of-three Valley Baseball League playoff series.

“Junior’s a great pitcher,” Armstrong said. “I’ve been playing with him, this will be my third year coming up here, and he’s done great things for our school team. He’s still a great pitcher, great friend of mine.”

Delatorre, a right-hander, was getting the best of the matchup early. After getting the start in Thursday’s makeup from Wednesday’s rainout, Delatorre tallied a third of an inning shortly before the deluge returned for a second day.

Unlike Strasburg’s Thursday starter, James McDade, Delatorre returned to the mound on Friday when action resumed with one out in the bottom of the first. Delatorre looked sharp, no-hitting the Express through 3 1/3 innings before Armstrong connected for a solo homer in his second at-bat after Delatorre had struck him out in the first.

“He’s swinging it well,” Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said of Armstrong. “Erik’s never faced [Delatorre} before, even down there in their inter-squad. So he knew what he had, he’s seen him pitch, but as far as seeing him and getting a read on him, tonight was it. Maybe got a little bragging rights to take back there.”

Armstrong’s long blast to left pulled third-seeded Strasburg to within 2-1 against the fourth-seeded Senators, who’d struck for single runs in the third and fourth on Austin Wobrock’s RBI single and a run-scoring double from Travis Ferrick. Both of those runs came off eventual winner Jordan Wilcox, who got what amounted to a start when he took over in he second inning and pitched four frames for the Express. Barnes said the team decided to treat McDade’s abbreviated start as a bullpen session, and he’ll start tonight’s Game 2 at Aldie.

Delatorre ran into real trouble in the bottom of the fifth. Johnny Schiotis drove in the tying run with an RBI double, and league MVP Jordan Tarsovich followed with a run-scoring triple to left. Delatorre then walked Andrew Kubuski to bring Armstrong to the plate with two aboard. That was a mistake, as Armstrong turned on another Delatorre pitch and launched it over the fence in left-center field to cap a five-run rally.

“He got me in my first at-bat, and that’s not how I wanted the day to go,” Armstrong said. “So I decided I needed at least to put something into play, and luckily I got off the home run in my second at-bat and got a good pitch to hit my third at-bat and got another one.”

Down to 15 or possibly 16 players left on the roster, Aldie manager Erik Lemley decided to stick with Delatorre after Strasburg’s five-run outburst. In the seventh, the Express jumped on him again with another four-run rally. Kubuski had an RBI single and Cameron Johnson connected on yet another home run, a three-run blast to left-center that ended Delatorre’s night.

“Junior’s been good for us all year,” Lemley said. “He’s one of the league leaders in wins and we’re getting pretty low on guys, so I was going to let him go out there and see how long he could go. He got hurt by the long ball, but you take the home runs away and he threw a pretty good game.”

Kubuski brought two more in the eighth with a two-run double off Aldie reliever Kyle McCormick.

“We’ve been living and dying with that home run,” Barnes said. “We’d better start putting some hits together, and I thought we did that tonight for the most part.”

Strasburg used six pitchers in all over the two day-long game, five on Friday. The Senators’ options were a bit more limited, and it showed against Strasburg.

“We’re hanging by a thread, but the guys we have left want to compete, they want to win,” Lemley said. “They’ll play hard until the end.”

Armstrong has that same mindset, and is hoping the end won’t come until next week with the Express winning the franchise’s first James W. Lineweaver Cup.

“I’m in it for the long haul,” Armstrong said. “We’re hoping that it’ll go all the way. We’re here now, been here all summer. It’s been a long summer for all of us, so might as well go all the way and try to win it.”

Note: The Lineweaver Cup championship series, originally scheduled for a best-of-five format, has been cut to a best-of-three due to this week’s rain-delayed semifinals.

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>