By Tommy Keeler Jr.
Front Royal's Senior League All-Star team played in the Virginia State Senior League Tournament last week, and although they came up short, they certainly had much to be proud of.
The squad, made up of mostly rising juniors at Skyline and Warren County High School, finished third in the 14-team tourney held in Pound.
"It was an enjoyable experience," Front Royal manager Butch Rutherford said. "Everybody got along well. They played together as a team. I'm really proud of the way everybody played throughout the entire tournament."
Front Royal qualified for the tournament by winning the District 3 title, against mostly area teams.
The state tournament started on July 11 and Front Royal started things off with a 6-1 win over Cradock. Warren County rising junior Joseph Rutherford pitched five innings in the win and struck out 11.
Front Royal followed that up with a 10-3 victory over Norton, which was the host team. Butch Rutherford said the game was tied at 3-3 in the fourth inning, before Front Royal's came to life and broke the game open.
Front Royal then lost to eventual state champion Dumfries Triangle Quantico, 4-2. Butch Rutherford said Front Royal led the game 2-1 in the fifth inning. DTQ scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth and held on for the win.
That sent Front Royal to the losers bracket, but the team responded well to the adversity and to some rain. Front Royal led Fairfax 5-4 in the fourth inning on Monday, July 14, but rain suspended the game. It rained all day Tuesday, and the game didn't resume until Wednesday morning.
Butch Rutherford said the found an open gym and played basketball (players against the coaches and parents) and had a meal together.
"I'm glad we did that instead of just sitting around watching the rain," Butch Rutherford said.
On Wednesday, Front Royal hung on for the 5-4 victory, and then had to play again in the afternoon. They defeated Middlesex 3-0 and then had to play again that night against Phoebus. They led Phoebus 1-0, but Phoebus scored three in the bottom of the sixth to take a 3-1 lead. Front Royal had runners on with one out in the top of the seventh, but couldn't drive them in and lost 3-1.
"Both games that we lost, we had our opportunities," Butch Rutherford said. "We were able to get people on base, but we just couldn't get the big hit with runners in scoring position."
Butch Rutherford said that pitching and defense was the key for the team's success throughout the playoffs.
"We had a core group of five pitchers who really did a great job for us," Butch Rutherford said. "We had very few errors."
Ryan Abel, a rising junior at Skyline, was one of the top players on offense going 8-for-18 throughout the tournament. He also helped out the pitching staff with a start against Phoebus, and Butch Rutherford said did a great job against a quality team. Cameron Ford, a rising sophomore at Warren County, also went 8-for-18 at the plate, and pitched two innings in the win against Norton.
Joseph Rutherford also picked up the win against Middlesex. Stephen Johnson and Rhett Tierney, both rising juniors at Warren County, also pitched and contributed to the team's pitching depth.
Butch Rutherford said he was very proud of the players, and that they represented the area very well.
"Hopefully, they'll remember this experience for a very long time," he said. "There were people there running the tournament who said that they were impressed with the team and how they played. They said they felt like we played the game the right way, and we were fun to watch."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd