By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf was unhappy with the Cardinals' approach at the plate against Woodstock starting pitcher Brady Badon during the first four innings of Tuesday's Valley League matchup at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The Cardinals were unable to handle Badon's sweeping breaking ball, and didn't capitalize on mistake pitches early on. But Front Royal finally broke through in a four-run fifth inning, and the Cardinals backed a solid effort from starting pitcher T.R. Dunne to roll to a 7-3 win.
"[Badon] was landing a breaking ball in any count to begin with, and then he'd throw a bad pitch that looked good and we didn't do a good job adjusting to it, working the other way. We were just going up there free swinging and not really having an approach," Neffendorf said. "... It took a little bit. We have the type of team where we get guys on, not only can they hit a little bit but we've got some guys that can run. We're going to have to execute a little bit better in certain areas and keep pitching the way we are."
Woodstock (1-3) grabbed an early lead on Tuesday with a pair of runs in the top of the second. Ty Warrington started the rally with a one-out single, and a walk by D.J. Paone and a Cardinals error loaded the bases.
River Bandits No. 9 hitter Aaron Pigna plated a run on an RBI fielder's choice, and an RBI single by Will Malbon scored Paone to give Woodstock a 2-0 lead.
Badon was able to hold that lead until the fifth inning, when he ran into trouble and was taken out of the game before recording an out in the frame.
"I thought Brady did really well on the mound. Just trying to extend him a little bit," River Bandits coach Phil Betterly said. "He gave us a great effort. He had them off-balance, so I'm proud of him for that. Then the bullpen came in and gave us a chance."
Badon -- who allowed four earned runs on six hits, three walks and five strikeouts -- opened the bottom of the fifth inning by hitting Josh Keim, walking Stefan Van Horn and surrendering a bunt single to No. 9 hitter Nick Sinay to load the bases with no outs.
Front Royal (4-0) leadoff man Tyler Tichenor cut Woodstock's lead in half with an RBI single, and Shell McCain worked a walk to plate another run to tie the game at 2-all and chase Badon from the game.
Spencer Wolfe delivered an RBI sacrifice fly against River Bandits reliever Ryan Bennett, and Hunter Newman smashed a long single off the net in right-center to plate McCain and give the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.
"I think we just took better approaches," said McCain, who went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs. "... After the starter goes around one time, we see him and kind of adjust to what he's throwing. That's how we base our approaches off of him."
Dunne, a right-hander from Campbellsville (Kentucky) University, where Neffendorf serves as the pitching coach, took care of the lead from there. Dunne retired 12 straight batters at one point before giving up a solo home run to Mason Snyder in the sixth that cut Front Royal's lead to 4-3.
Dunne allowed three runs (one earned) on five hits and a walk while striking out seven over seven innings pitched.
"His breaking ball is pretty good and he didn't have it tonight, so to be able to do what he did and to hold them to what he did, he did a great job," Neffendorf said.
Front Royal added three big insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning off River Bandits reliever Matt Davis.
Davis entered the game with one out and immediately dealt back-to-back walks to Nick Perez and Sinay, which put runners on the corners after Perez stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch.
Pinch-hitter Steven Mancilla plated Perez with a squeeze bunt, and McCain ripped an RBI double to left-center to give the Cardinals a 6-3 lead.
"I was looking for a fastball. The first pitch he kind of caught me off-guard with a changeup, but that was OK," McCain said. "I knew he probably wasn't going to double up because he probably thought that I was thinking off-speed again. But I was sitting dead-red fastball and looking for something to drive in the gap."
McCain later came in to score on a wild pitch to give Front Royal a 7-3 lead going into the ninth.
Woodstock put two runners on with one out in the top of the ninth against reliever Evan Bickett, but Bickett induced a groundout before Warrington -- who singled with one out -- took third on defensive indifference but then mistakenly retreated back toward second base. He was tagged out between second and third to end the game.
"The wins will come. We're just sticking with the process," Betterly said. "We're going to hit the ball. We're going to be able to tack on extra runs and our guys competed until the end."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org