By Jeff Nations
NEW MARKET -- The clouds were heavy, the rain falling insistently late during Thursday night's Valley Baseball League game at Rebel Park.
Hardly ideal conditions for a hitter, but Tim Kiene made do. The towering 6-foot-5, 230-pound first baseman swung threw one strike from Front Royal Cardinals starting pitcher Keegan Long, then watched another go by for strike two. Kiene, New Market Rebels' cleanup hitter, was looking for something he could drive.
Three pitches later, he got it when Long grooved a fastball over the fat part of the plate. Kiene roped a double into center field, plating the go-ahead runs with two RBIs to cap a stunning 8-6 come-from-behind win.
"The whole game I faced a lot of off-speed stuff," Kiene said. "I finally got a fastball over the plate and put a good swing on it, hit a gap and got a couple runs in."
New Market (8-16), which trailed by six runs after just two innings, surged back into the game with a five-run rally in the fourth after Long had retired the first nine batters in order. Cody Acker drew a walk to lead off the inning, and Brandon Gum stroked an RBI double. Long, a right-hander from Saint Joseph's College (Indiana) and a VBL North All-Star pick, nearly shut down the Rebels right there with two straight strikeouts after Gum's hit.
It didn't happen, as Jimmy Kerrigan extended the inning by reaching on an error and Dom Wyshinski followed with a two-run single. Jake Kimble then followed with another single that eluded Cardinals center fielder Nick Sinay, an error that allowed both Wyshinski and Kimble to score.
"Yes, they did battle back -- they competed," Cardinals manager Brad Neffendorf said. "We make [two] errors in one inning ... we make an error on a routine ball to lead off the inning in the eighth inning and then they put themselves in position to score a couple runs."
The Rebels tied it in the fifth when Tray Roberts scored on a wild pitch, but Cody Acker was gunned down trying to take an extra base at third on the play by Front Royal catcher Spencer Wolfe to end the inning.
New Market starting pitcher Garrett Kelly, who'd been roughed up for six runs (five earned) in the first two innings, settled down with four solid innings after that to keep his team in it. Rebels manager C.J. Rhodes said Kelly, a right-hander from Wake Forest, hadn't pitched in 11 days.
"He certainly was a little rusty with his routine," Rhodes said. "He got on the mound I think probably at 60 or 70 percent, which showed. His fastball command was average, breaking ball was tight and sharp but inconsistent in certain areas and certain counts."
Dan Fein followed with two scoreless innings for the Rebels, sticking around long enough to earn win thanks to Kiene's big hit. Rebels closer Josh Falbo had an eventful ninth, as Front Royal's Jacob Russell reached on an error with two outs and Tyler Tichenor followed with a single before Shell McCain sent a fly ball deep to center that didn't quite have the distance to be more than a loud final out.
"Obviously early on we didn't really give ourselves a chance," Rhodes said. "But you just saw some fight in the guys. We got through the middle third, and it was exciting as we got to the back half of the game. We obviously put ourselves in position to win."
Front Royal (18-8) roughed up Kelly from the start, slashing three straight singles off the VBL South All-Star selection. Russell, who had the third single in that bunch, drove in the game's first run. A Rebels error plated another run, Kelly allowed another with a wild pitch and Wolfe's double-play groundout brought home the fourth run.
Hunter Newman's RBI single put the Cardinals up 5-0 in the top of the fifth, and McCain drove in another to put his team up by six.
"We had two hits from the third inning on -- not much more to say than that," Neffendorf said. "We had two hits from the third inning on and we didn't take care of the baseball."
Long took the loss, allowing eight runs (three earned) in 7 1/3 innings. He struck out eight.
"Keegan threw really well, more than well enough to win a ballgame especially when you start off 6-0," Neffendorf said. "Free bases cost us a ballgame."
Rhodes thinks this might be the start of a major turnaround for his team, which improved to 3-7 over its last 10 games.
"Where we are right now as a team does not correspond to where we are in the standings," Rhodes said. "I really believe that. We've had some close ballgames that just haven't gone our way. I really believe in where we are going when it comes to just getting this thing rolling in the second half."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org