By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- For much of their dazzling postseason run, the Strasburg Express have relied on a winning combination of solid pitching and timely hitting -- usually the over-the-fence variety.
In Tuesday night's Valley Baseball League championship series finale, the Express watched the Waynesboro Generals beat them at their own game for a 6-3 victory that clinched the championship and denied Strasburg its first-ever VBL title.
The Generals launched three home runs off Express starting pitcher Jordan Wilcox over the first six innings to grab a four-run lead, then weathered a Strasburg comeback that pulled the home team within a run and threatened to do even more.
"I'm telling you what -- our best baseball game was tonight," Waynesboro manager Mike Bocock said. "We had to play our best game -- pitching, hitting, defense. I thought our defense was phenomenal tonight."
Leading 4-0 heading into the bottom of the sixth, Waynesboro starting pitcher and eventual VBL playoff Most Valuable Player Corey Armentrout lost his shutout when he served up a solo home run to Strasburg's Andrew Kubuski to lead off the inning.
Strasburg then loaded the bases with no outs. Generals reliever Michael Scimanico struck out Teddy Payne for the first out, then induced Tyler McDonald to ground into an inning-ending double play.
It was the third double play turned by the Generals in the game, the first two coming off the bat of Strasburg's best hitter and league MVP Jordan Tarsovich in the third and fifth innings.
"We got ourselves in position, and they made a couple nice plays defensively, turned a couple double plays on some of our faster guys," Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said. "That kind of took us out of some big innings."
After that near-escape in the sixth, Waynesboro ran into more trouble in the seventh as Strasburg's Erik Armstrong and Cam Johnson delivered back-to-back RBI singles off David Spinosa to pull the Express back to within a run.
In the top of the ninth, Waynesboro got some badly-needed breathing room when Patrick Mazeika ripped a two-run single to center field off Strasburg closer Daniel Bridgeman.
Strasburg still had a chance in the bottom of the ninth. Johnny Schiotis drew a leadoff walk. After Waynesboro's Sean Buchholz struck out Tarsovich, Andrew Kubuski reached on an error to put runners at the corners with Strasburg's top two power hitters coming up. Buchholz was up for the challenge, striking out Armstrong and Johnson to end the game.
Strasburg, which left 13 runners on base in Monday night's Game 2 loss, stranded 10 more runners on Tuesday.
"Just unlucky," Armstrong said. "We had a bunch of situations to do some real damage, and just didn't come out on top."
Waynesboro went up in the third on Jomarcus Woods' two-run homer to right off Wilcox.
Kevin Fagan smoked a solo shot off Wilcox in the fifth, and Quinn Griffith did the same in the sixth to give the Generals a solid lead. Armentrout, who didn't allow runs in playoff wins against Harrisonburg and New Market, was similarly untouchable against Strasburg until the sixth.
"From the get-go we went through a lot of adversity, whether it was losing players or some little struggles that we had to overcome, tough games or bad calls, anything like that," Armentrout said. "I think that really brought the group together. The guys that are here, they wanted to be here. They wanted to win."
Strasburg outhit the Generals, 8-5, but couldn't come up with one last big hit.
"There's no doubt in my mind that these were the best two teams playing at the end, and we cherish this victory," Bocock said.
Armentrout went five-plus innings to earn the win. Buchholz pitched two scoreless innings for the save.
Wilcox took the loss for Strasburg. Armstrong led the Express with a 3-for-5 effort at the plate. A two-year member of the team, Armstrong leaves with plenty of good memories despite falling short in the championship.
"It's gotten better and better," Armstrong said. "This year was absolutely fantastic. I had a good experience last year with the community and everything. I just think my teammates this year are way better. I love these guys. We all put everything on the line through the entire season, especially in the playoffs. It's an experience I'll never forget. I'll never forget these fans and this community."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>