By Tommy Keeler Jr.
FRONT ROYAL -- Front Royal Post 53 survived to play another day, and Winchester Post 21 kept up its winning ways in the District 16 American Legion tournament on Tuesday at Bing Crosby Stadium.
The tournament is a double-elimination format. Front Royal knocked off Post 158 Manassas 7-5 on Tuesday after suffering an opening-round loss on Sunday. Winchester beat Post 34 Leesburg 11-1 to remain perfect in the tournament. The game was called in the eighth inning due to the mercy rule on a walk-off three-run double by Connor Stevenson.
"I really thought we played well overall," Winchester coach Kyle Smallwood said. "We played well in every aspect of the game."
Winchester took the lead in the third inning against Leesburg. Kacee Duggan singled with one out off Leesburg starter Sam Arter. Jacob Carney and Taylor Loudan each drew a walk to load the bases. Chase Smallwood followed with a two-run single to give Post 21 a 2-0 edge.
Ryan Hartigan then stretched the lead to 3-0 with a sacrifice fly.
Leesburg cut the lead to 3-1 in the top of the fifth, but Winchester responded with another three-run inning in the bottom of the fifth.
Chase Smallwood led off with a double and Hartigan drew a walk. Conor Hartigan singled to load the bases. Nick Goode drew another walk to score Smallwood. Justin Angel was hit by a pitch from reliever Jake Skov, and a groundout RBI by Duggan gave Winchester a 6-1 lead.
John Bentley pitched seven innings for Winchester, allowing seven hits and striking out six.
"You couldn't ask for anything more from John Bentley. He threw around 100 pitches in seven innings against a quality team."
Front Royal trailed early against Manassas. Post 158 scored two runs in the top of the third inning off Front Royal starter John Reith. Post 158's Eric Jennings struck out, but advanced on a dropped third strike to keep the inning alive. Manassas took advantage with a single by Mason Clark, and a two-run double by Jack Shepard.
Front Royal rallied in the bottom half of the inning. Warren County graduate Jontae Rollins drew a walk, stole second and went to third on a wild pitch from Manassas starter Nick Barth.
Jordan Rau followed with an RBI single. He then stole second and third, and scored on an RBI single by Neil Dutton.
"Jontae and Jordan were able to get on base and run and do the things that they do," Front Royal manager Rick Almarode said. "That's what we like to do. We like to put the ball in play and run. That's our kind of baseball."
In the bottom of the fourth Front Royal took the lead for good. Eric Baker drew a lead-off walk and stole second. One out later, Patrick McGrath and Hunter Partlowe drew back-to-back walks to load the bases. Rollins followed with two-run double for a 4-2 lead. Rau then hit a two-run single to stretch the lead to 6-2.
That was enough for Front Royal with a solid pitching performance from Warren County rising senior John Reith and R-MA graduate Neil Dutton on the mound.
Reith allowed eight hits in six innings of work, striking out six. Dutton came on in relief and pitched three innings, facing only 11 batters. He struck out the side in the seventh and eighth innings.
Post 53 lost its first game on Sunday, but Almarode said he was happy with how his team responded.
"The team really bounced back better than I expected them to," Almarode said. "They've played better this season than I expected. They're really coming together as a team. They're playing as a team."
Front Royal will play Post 2001 Ashburn, the second seed, on Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. Post 2001 lost to sixth-seeded Post 290 Stafford Nationals 6-3 on Tuesday. If Front Royal wins that game they would have to play again at 4 p.m.
"They told me 'we're winning two tomorrow,'" Almarode said. "I hope we win for the kids. The kids are the ones that do the work. They're the ones it's all about.
"They played really well today. I'm really proud of them."
Winchester will play Post 290 Stafford Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m.
"We can't overlook them just because they're the sixth seed. They're obviously playing well," Kyle Smallwood said. "I'm sure our kids will be ready to play."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd