Streaking Express top River Bandits for sixth straight win

By Jeff Nations

WOODSTOCK — As bunts go, it was hardly a thing of beauty Luke Wurzelbacher dropped down for the Strasburg Express on Monday night.

Batting in the top of the seventh inning with runners on first and second base, Wurzelbacher tried to drop a sacrifice bunt down the third-base line and well away from Woodstock River Bandits first baseman Esteban Puerta.

“We were trying to bunt that ball to third because the last time we were here that first baseman made a play on us,” Strasburg manager Ben Moore said. “We tried to squeeze and he made an awesome play and threw us out at home.”

Moore didn’t want to see a repeat, but Wurzelbacher’s bouncing bunt wasn’t far enough away. Puerta cut across the infield diamond to scoop up the ball, but he throw to third skipped away for an error that opened the door for a big Express rally and an eventual 8-0 victory in Valley Baseball League action.

When things are going good, they’re going really good. That’s been the case for Strasburg (12-13), now winners of six straight. That streak coincides with the Express getting their home field back after leading a semi-vagabond existence earlier in the season after First Bank Park suffered extensive storm damage.

“Ever since we’ve gotten our field back and we’ve been on a routine, we’ve gone 6-0,” Moore said. “It’s just good for these guys.”

Wurzelbacher got things going with that misplaced bunt single, but Strasburg was just getting warmed up against River Bandits reliever Justin Ratte. Joe Ravert followed with a two-run single to cap the three-run rally.

“We’re a small-ball team,” Moore said. “We do a lot of small-ball things right — that’s what we try to preach to these guys. We did a small thing right and it paid off, and after that we just kind of rolled.”

The three-run cushion was plenty for Strasburg starting pitcher Mike Vinson, a right-hander from the University of Florida. Vinson matched zeros with River Bandits starter Mike O’Reilly for six innings before the Express broke through, then chipped in one more scoreless frame for good measure.

It was the second straight strong start for Vinson, who’s only made two since moving up from a relief role. Vinson missed the college baseball season as he recovered from surgery on a fractured elbow in his pitching arm, and as a freshman had only thrown in relief for the Gators.

“It feels nice to start again. I haven’t done it in a really long time,” Vinson said. “I had surgery this past year, so getting my arm back into shape and throwing that many pitches is nice.

“I’m full go, nothing’s holding me back now. It’s just building it back up.”

Vinson allowed just five hits and no walks while striking out seven to earn the win.

“He pounds the zone,” Moore said. “He’s a bulldog. He comes in, he demands the strike zone and he goes right after people.”

Woodstock (7-18) saw a close game unravel after the sixth. Wurzelbacher came through with the bases loaded and one out with a single off Ratte, and Jay Lizanich followed with a two-run single to right to chase. Two more runs would score on a throwing error as the Express capped a five-run outburst.

O’Reilly was the tough-luck loser for Woodstock, allowing two runs off three hits and two walks while striking out nine.

“He’s been outstanding all year,” Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. “He pounds the zone, he’s a competitor. There’s a reason he was their leading pitcher at Flagler [College]. He just comes in and he throws strikes with all his pitches.”

Wurzelbacher and Kevin Baron had two hits apiece for Strasburg, which totaled seven. Andrew Brodbeck and Zach Jarrett had two hits each for the River Bandits.

“The kid that started for them tonight has thrown against us three times in a row and he’s got our number,” Moore said of O’Reilly, a right-hander. “I think we beat him one time, but I think he only gave up one earned run the time we beat him and we shouldn’t have beat him that time. So he’s had our number and he had it again tonight. Luckily we got his pitch count up after fouling a couple balls off and getting into 3-2 counts, which paid off in the end.”

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