By Jeff Nations
FRONT ROYAL -- Every time the Front Royal Cardinals managed to start climbing out of an early hole they'd dug at Bing Crosby Stadium on Thursday night, the visiting Winchester Royals responded by shoveling more dirt.
The Cardinals rallied back from a four-run deficit to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth, but the Royals immediately answered with two more runs in the top of the sixth and held on from there for a 9-7 victory.
Down 6-2 heading into the bottom of the fourth, Front Royal got three runs back against Royals starter Darrell Thompson. The left-hander, a former Sherando High School and current Shenandoah University ace, walked the first two batters of the inning before giving up a two-run single to Front Royal's Shell McCain. That would do it for Thompson, but Hunter Newman greeted reliever Brandon Valentine with a a single to drive in another run.
The Royals stretched that lead back out in the top of the fifth on Wes Hoover's sacrifice fly RBI, but the Cardinals answered back in the bottom of the frame. Zach Beckner had a sac fly RBI, and one batter later Omar Cotto tied the game at 7-all with an RBI double.
The Cardinals couldn't manage any more runs that inning, and Winchester once more came right back with more offense as Zac Carter stroked a two-run single to right.
The Cardinals had the winning run at the plate in the bottom of the ninth, but Hunter Newman's long fly ball to right wasn't far enough to prolong the game that took nearly 3 ½ hours to complete.
"We battled back and we competed at the plate," Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf said. "I liked that. We were a little bit low on energy to begin the game. We booted the ball and had a few free errors there and we didn't communicate on the bunt and that came back and bit us a little bit."
The Royals came out swinging against Cardinals starting pitcher Beau Bowen, who got little support from his defense. Third baseman Ricky Reyes committed two errors in the inning and didn't cover the bag on a fielder's choice back to Bowen, who fielded Carter's would-be sacrifice bunt and came up looking for the force at third. A run came in on Reyes' second error, then Wes Hoover cleared the bases with a three-run double.
The Cardinals got two back in the bottom of the third on McCain's RBI double and another run scored off an error. The Royals struck for two runs in the fourth. Corey Chafin led off the inning with a solo home run over the left-field wall. Lucas Luopa, who'd reached on an infield single, eventually scored on McCain's error at second.
"We kept competing there at the end," Neffendorf said. "We had a shot with the best in the league [Newman] up. He took one to the track and came up short, but we're going to be fine."
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org