By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Fielding has been an issue for the Front Royal Cardinals over the last several weeks, and their struggles on defense continued against visiting Covington in Wednesday night's Valley League contest at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The Cardinals committed five errors against Covington, but for all of the mistakes and free runs that Front Royal surrendered on Wednesday, it still had a chance to win it in the game's final inning.
Trailing by three going into the bottom of the ninth, Front Royal rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. But the Cardinals' run was cut short as Covington centerfielder Demetrius Moorer threw out Jacob Russell -- who was trying to score on a sacrifice fly -- at home plate to end the game and seal an 8-7 win for the Lumberjacks.
"Credit to our guys, we competed. We had a shot right there. We stayed out of a double play but it ended up being a double play -- we kept it off the ground right there," Cardinals coach Brad Neffendorf said of the game's final play. "It came down to a couple inches at the plate. But the fact of the matter is we've got five errors on the board."
Front Royal (22-12) trailed Covington 8-5 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, but Hunter Newman got the rally started by hitting a double to right center to lead off the half inning against Lumberjacks reliever Matt O'Neil. Ryan Cleveland worked a walk to put runners on the corners, and Russell walked two batters later to load the bases with one out for the Cardinals.
Zarley Zalewski, who came on as a pinch hitter, then doubled home two runs to cut Covington's lead to 8-7.
Cardinals No. 9 hitter Tyler Tichenor followed with a walk to reload the bases, and leadoff man Nick Sinay sent the first pitch he saw from O'Neil into the air in shallow right-center field. Moorer made the catch and threw a strike to home plate as Russell attempted to score. Moorer's throw beat Russell by two steps, and Lumberjacks catcher Matt Fortin applied the tag to end the game.
"You can't get any more exciting than that," Lumberjacks coach Charlie Bernert said. "Fly ball caught and throwing them out at the plate to end the game, that's just stuff you can't make up."
Front Royal's fielding woes started early, as two errors during a routine grounder to short sent two Covington runs across the plate in the top of the first inning.
The Cardinals responded with four runs of their own in the bottom of the first to take a 4-2 lead. Omar Cotto, Shell McCain and Hunter Newman each singled with one out off Lumberjacks starting pitcher Cody Strayer, and Newman's hit plated the Cardinals' first run.
Johnathan Valenzuala-Reece tied the game with a sacrifice fly to right field later in the inning, and a two-run single by Russell gave Front Royal a 4-2 lead.
Covington (15-17) tied the game with two runs in the top of the fourth, as a throwing error on an RBI fielder's choice by Blake Edwards led to another run.
Front Royal regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth when Cotto worked a bases-loaded walk that gave the Cardinals a 5-4 advantage.
The Lumberjacks took the lead for good in the top of the fifth, as Cardinals reliever Jace Powers surrendered a two-out, two-run homer to designated hitter Brent James. Covington took an 8-5 lead in the sixth with two more runs that were aided by two Front Royal errors.
Only four of the Cardinals' eight runs allowed were earned.
"We're just not playing good defense all-around, and that's biting us. That's the reason why we're losing ballgames," Neffendorf said.
Front Royal starting pitcher Mike Elwood, a knuckleball pitcher, struggled through his four innings of work, as he allowed seven hits and a walk while striking out two. Only one of his four runs allowed was earned.
Cardinals reliever Dyllan Brownmiller, one of a handful of fresh players Front Royal has gotten over the last week, pitched the final four innings on Wednesday. He allowed four hits and struck out five.
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com