By Jeff Nations
The defending Valley Baseball League champion Waynesboro Generals are already showing they might have the firepower for another deep run in this year's VBL playoffs, but nipping right at their heels is a squad that missed the postseason entirely last year.
Front Royal, with a 4-1 record heading into Friday night's road contest against the New Market Rebels, trailed the Generals by just a half-game heading into Friday's action. The Cardinals opened the season with four straight wins before dropping a 10-1 decision to Harrisonburg on Thursday night -- that was the Turks' first win.
The Cardinals are getting much of their production from a group of small-college players showing they can compete with anyone. Outfielder Shell McCain (Tennessee Wesleyan) leads Front Royal with a .474 batting average with five RBIs and a whopping seven stolen bases so far. Infielder Hunter Newman (Trevecca Nazarene) sports a .389 average with five RBIs, and infielder/pitcher Josh Keim from Saint Joseph's (Ind.) has posted a .364 average so far.
Front Royal has also gotten stellar pitching from another Saint Joseph's product, Jake Harper. The left-hander has posted a 1.28 ERA in seven innings with seven strikeouts, joining with Campbellsville's T.R. Dunne (1.12 ERA in eight innings, 7 Ks) atop a so far rock-solid pitching staff.
ON THE OTHER HAND: An 0-4 start isn't exactly what New Market Rebels manager C.J. Rhodes had in mind when he agreed to return for a second year, but then the season is still young and the Rebels have been far from full strength in the first week.
So far, though, New Market hasn't done much at the plate as the Rebels had compiled a team batting average of .151 and scored seven runs total in four games heading into Friday home game against Front Royal.
New Market's pitching fared somewhat better, posting a combined 4.35 ERA in 33 1/3 innings so far.
BRAVE NEW WORLD?: That could well be the case for Staunton Braves left-hander Sam Howard and righty Max Povse, who were both picked in the third round during Friday's second day of the Major League Baseball draft. Neither pitched an inning for Staunton this year, but considering their draft status both probably would have excelled in the VBL this summer.
Howard, from Georgia Southern, was picked by the Colorado Rockies with the 82nd overall selection. Povse, out of North Carolina-Greensboro, went to the Atlanta Braves as the 102nd overall pick on Friday.
Other players with VBL ties selected on Friday included former Staunton left-hander Chris Diaz, a University of Miami product who was picked in the fifth round (No. 163) by the Atlanta Braves, and former Luray Wranglers lefty Ryan Yarbrough. The Old Dominion University hurler, who pitched for Luray in 2012, was a fourth-round pick (No. 111) by the Seattle Mariners. The Major League Draft concludes with rounds 11 through 40 on Saturday.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>