Express deals with issues on, off field

By Brad Fauber

The Strasburg Express hasn’t exactly gotten off to the smoothest of starts this Valley League season.

The Express, which shares First Bank Park with Strasburg High School’s baseball team, wasn’t able to able to hold its first few practices on an actual baseball field due to conflicting schedules between the two teams. That same conflict forced the Express to play its first six games on the road.

When Strasburg was finally slated to hold its Valley League home opener on Sunday against Covington, a powerful storm rolled through the area and cancelled the game. First Bank Park sustained heavy damage in that storm and forced the postponement of Wednesday’s home game against Winchester, and the Express will have to wait until at least next week to hold its first true home game while the field is repaired. Strasburg will play Thursday’s scheduled home game at Central High School, the team announced on Wednesday.

While battling all of the issues regarding its home field, the Express stumbled through a five-game losing streak that was finally snapped with a 4-2 win over struggling Woodstock on Tuesday night.

“We’ve had a little bit of adversity — not being able to get on our field, our first two practices were inside because that was the only place we could work out,” Express manager Ben Moore said after Monday’s loss at New Market. “But they handled it pretty well. We got two quick wins, but lately we have done every small thing possible wrong. So when you do small things wrong, big things happen.”

Moore said Strasburg (3-5), maybe not surprisingly, has struggled to find consistency early in the season. He said both the pitching and the offensive production have fluctuated from game to game so far, and the Express hadn’t really been able to put it all together prior to Tuesday’s win.

“That’s just baseball. … These guys are still trying to learn each other, learn how to play with each other, learn plays, learn our new style of baseball,” Moore said. “Some of these guys aren’t used to small ball, stealing a lot, so they’re still getting used to that. I think it’s a mixture of getting used to playing with each other — and some of these guys are playing different positions, too.”

POWER OUTAGE: New Market manager C.J. Rhodes thought the Rebels might be lacking some power bats this summer, but he likely didn’t expect his team to struggle at the plate as much as it had through its first eight games of the season.

Following Monday’s win over Strasburg, the Rebels had recorded just six extra-base hits — the lowest mark in the Valley League — and was last in the league in runs scored.

“That was something that I kind of expected. What’s going to help us continue to get better is us staying with the process and getting out here and just working, maximizing our depth,” Rhodes said on Monday. “… I think the opportunity to maybe hit the gaps is going to be more of an expectation than really some big barrel baseballs out of the park.”

New Market, which lost its first seven games, finally flashed a little power in Tuesday’s 5-4 win over Winchester. Rebels first baseman Darian Carpenter (Virginia Commonwealth University) hit New Market’s first home run of the year with his go-ahead homer in the top of the 10th, and he also hit one of three doubles in the game for the Rebels.

Still, New Market ranked last in the league in hits (50) entering Wednesday’s game, which has somewhat hindered Rhodes’ penchant for aggressive baserunning.

“We haven’t really been on base enough to be as aggressive as I wanted to be,” Rhodes said. “But I think it comes down to just finding a way to get on base so that we can make something happen. You can’t always compensate for a guy that you would like to be able to see up with guys on base. I do think that we have those guys, they just need to continue to see pitches. We need to continue to have a good approach when we get an opportunity to get up and drive those guys in.”

ALL THE RIGHT CARDS: Front Royal is the lone area team that has thrived early in the season, and the Cardinals have done so with strong play in all facets of the game.

The Cardinals entered Wednesday second in the league in runs scored (55) and hits (87), while leading in doubles (21) and home runs (four). Front Royal also had four players — Shell McCain (7), Nick Sinay (4), Spencer Wolfe (4) and Wardy Polanco (4) — in the top 15 in stolen bases.

Infielder Hunter Newman, a rising junior from Trevecca Nazarene College, has led the charge early on and garnered the Valley League’s first Player of the Week honor. He is currently batting .429 (15-for-35) with six doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs.

On the mound, Front Royal has allowed just 23 earned runs — tied for third lowest in the league entering Wednesday — and was tied for fourth in the league with 66 total strikeouts.

The Cardinals are 7-2 and were in third place on Wednesday following Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to league-leading Waynesboro.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD