Strasburg withstands Bandits’ surge

By Jeff Nations

STRASBURG — The Woodstock River Bandits put on an impressive power display on Tuesday.

Taking advantage of First Bank Park’s snug dimensions, the River Bandits launched four home runs against the host Strasburg Express. But like revving a V-12 engine in rush-hour traffic, the Bandits’ awesome power produced precious little mileage — all four homers were solo shots, not nearly enough to compete with Strasburg’s 17 hits in a 13-5 win for the Express.

Strasburg (19-20) produced nary a long bomb and had only three extra-base hits in all, but that steady stream of singles combined with a handful of Woodstock errors made it a drama-free night early.

Express shortstop Kevin Baron, who was 3-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBIs, said Strasburg’s home park can lure opposing teams into changing their approach.

“That plays to our advantage,” Baron said. “Teams come here, they take the BP before the game and they see that 300-foot fence out there and they want to get big and change their swings. We stick to our style of baseball and we play to how we’re put together.”

Woodstock leadoff hitter Will Malbon might have had that idea when he smoked the first pitch of the game over the right-field fence for a solo home run off Strasburg starting pitcher Thomas Durkin. Two batters later, the River Bandits’ Esteban Puerta ripped another solo homer to left to stake his team to a quick 2-0 lead.

Strasburg answered right back with three in the bottom of the first against Woodstock starter Greg Ostner. Baron plated the first with an RBI double, catcher John Brocious added a run-scoring single and another run came home on the first of Woodstock’s five errors.

The Express kept rolling in the bottom of the second, as Jay Lizanich drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Baron brought in another with his second RBI double in as many trips to the plate.

Strasburg added another run in the third to go up 6-2, helping Durkin settle in for a solid start.

“Six pitches and you’re down 2-0,” Strasburg manager Ben Moore said. “A lot of credit goes to Durkin because he didn’t let up. He went right after people, and he came back and gave us six strong. You couldn’t ask more from him.”

Woodstock (13-25) touched up Durkin again in the top of the fifth as Alex Lewis led off with a towering home run to left.

“I wish we had some more runners on base when we hit the home runs, but that happens,” River Bandits manager Phil Betterly said. “We had some guys putting some good swings on it. Unfortunately they scored more runs than us tonight. They did a good job with their approach at the plate against us, going the other way and using the whole field.”

After swapping runs in the sixth, the Express pulled away with a three-run rally in the seventh. Joe Camp singled home a run and Sky Overton drove in two more with a single that was misplayed for another error.

Woodstock’s Kevin White led off the eighth with yet another solo homer, this one off Strasburg newcomer Tyler Davis, but the Express put up another three-spot in the bottom of the inning. All three runs were unearned.

“I think we’ve been hitting the ball hard all year,” Baron said. “I think we’re one of the best offensive teams in this league. We just found a way to finally put some good swings on the ball and got it done today.

“Everything seemed to go right. Just one of those days, you know?”

With less than a week left in the regular season, neither team has secured a playoff spot yet. Tuesday’s win was a big step for the Express.

“We haven’t locked up anything yet and these guys know that,” Moore said. “We’re not freaking out right now. We’re comfortable that we’re going to make it, but you don’t make it until you make it.”

The River Bandits face a tougher task as they must start making up ground fast.

“Mathematically we’re still in it,” Betterly said. “We’re going to fight to the end.”

Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com