Puerta sparks River Bandits

By Tommy Keeler Jr.

FRONT ROYAL –Woodstock’s Esteban Puerta knows sometimes the key to success is to keep it simple.

The first baseman used that approach to help lead the River Bandits to a 3-1 victory over Front Royal on Friday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.

“I’ve been on a tear lately, hitting a few home runs which has helped get the team going,” Puerta said. “I’ve been trying to do less and it’s working. At the beginning of the season, I was trying to do more, to do too much at the plate.”

Puerta’s sixth homer of the year helped give Woodstock a three-run fourth inning.
Puerta homered off Front Royal starter Josh Keim to start the inning. With one out, Alex Lewis and Zach Jarrett each singled. Kevin White followed with a single and an error scored Lewis to give the River Bandits a 2-1 edge.

A sacrifice fly RBI extended the lead to 3-1.

That was more than enough for Woodstock’s pitching. Woodstock’s Mike O’Reilly, Justin Ratte and Ryan Bennett combined to throw a six-hitter.

“We had a gutsy effort from Mike O’Reilly tonight, throwing four and two-thirds innings,” Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. “Justin Ratte came in and did his thing. Then Ryan Bennett gave us two solid innings, pounding the strike zone to seal the deal.”

Betterly said he was also very proud of the way Woodstock played defense.

“I just told those guys, that was the best we played defense all year,” Betterly said. “We won this game tonight with pitching, defense and clutch hitting. If we can keep doing that, we’re going to be all right.”

Front Royal scored in the bottom of the first. Nick Sinay drew a lead-off walk from O’Reilly. Sinay stole second and third and scored on a passed ball to give The Cardinals a 1-0 lead.

O’Reilly pitched 4.2 innings, allowing just three hits and striking out seven.

Keim went five innings for the Cardinals, allowing six hits and striking out six.

Front Royal had five errors in the game, which manager Brad Neffendorf said has been a common theme lately.

“We had a bad approach at the plate and we had too many errors,” Neffendorf said. “Lately, we’ve been averaging about four hits a game, and five errors.”

Front Royal was led at the plate by Spencer Wolfe and Dalton Busby with two hits each.
Front Royal has lost seven of it’s last 11 games.

“We’re not swinging the bats right now,” Neffendorf said. “We’re playing our worst baseball at a time when you want to be playing your best.”

Lewis and Jarrett led the River Bandits with two hits each.

The win moves Woodstock with 1.5 games of the final playoff spot with three games left.

“We try not to pay much attention to the standings,” Betterly said. “I tell the guys let’s just go out and get back at it. We just need to keep playing like we’re capable.”

Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd