By Jeff Nations
Baseball fans will have one extra night to take in a Valley Baseball League regular-season game this summer.
On Monday, the VBL announced that league president Don Lemish has granted permission for make-up games to be played on July 28, as long as they don't affect first-or second-place standings. The regular season is slated to end on July 27, with the playoffs scheduled to begin on July 29. League rules stipulate that the playoffs must end no later than August 10.
Lemish said the regular-season extension is to help VBL teams perhaps get in one more game, although with the erratic weather this summer there is no chance of all the teams completing the full 44-game schedule.
"We usually have an extra day," Lemish said of the decision. "It's simply a day in case we have a first-place tie. In this case, some of these places have sponsors for every game of the season."
The one-game playoff if there is a tie for first place is a league rule. A tie-breaker system will be used to determine all other positions in the standings after any make-ups on July 28.
The unbalanced schedule this year has already put the VBL in a time crunch. With 11 teams this season, as opposed to 12 last year, one team is idle each night during the regular season. Lemish said that has forced the VBL to extend the regular season by a full week this year.
"That's already left us very little wiggle room," Lemish said.
One point of relief is the postseason. This year's James W. Lineweaver Cup championship series has been reduced to a best-of-three format, down from last year's best-of-five. Before last year, it was a best-of-seven series. All three rounds of the playoffs are a three-game series.
ALL-STAR CONNECTION: A former player on a former team will represent the VBL in tonight's Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Target Field in Minneapolis.
Current New York Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy played two years in the VBL with the Luray Wranglers, which moved in 2013 to Charles Town, W.Va.
Murphy, who played collegiately at Jacksonville University, spent the 2004 and 2005 seasons playing for the Wranglers under coach Mike Bocock. Murphy was the VBL's 2005 Most Valuable Player after batting .347 with four home runs, 16 doubles and 20 stolen bases.
Drafted by the Mets in the 15th round in 2006, Murphy headed into the All-Star game with a .294 batting average and a .342 on-base percentage. He's totaled seven home runs and 37 RBIs, and has added 11 stolen bases for the Mets.
ARMS RACE: The Front Royal Cardinals have maintained their status at or near the top of the VBL standings with help from a solid lineup, in particular the trio of outfielder Nick Sinay (.365 batting average, 19 SBs), outfielder Shell McCain (.348, 15 SBs) and infielder Hunter Newman (.344, 5 home runs, 31 RBIs) making up the heart of the lineup.
But as impressive as those three have been for the Cardinals this season, Front Royal has leaned on a lights-out pitching staff to turn back opponents night after night. The Cardinals lead the VBL by a wide margin in team earned run average (2.66) and have twice as many shutouts (four) as the next closest team in that category.
Right-hander Keegan Long, from St. Joseph's College (Indiana), has led the way with a 1.45 ERA over 37 innings. Another Hoosier State import, right-hander Evan Bickett (Indiana U.-Southeast) isn't far behind with an ERA of 1.80 in 30 innings, but Front Royal goes deeper than that. Lefty Jake Harper, another St. Joseph's College hurler, has posted a 2.39 ERA in 41 1/3 innings. Right-hander Mike Elwood, from Canisius College, has a 2.54 ERA in 35 1/3 innings so far.
Contact staff writer Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org