Abel, Post 53 top Post 21 in 11 innings

STEPHENS CITY — Skyline rising senior Ryan Abel came up big for Front Royal Post 53 on Friday night at Sherando High School.

Abel was able to get out of a couple jams on the mound and pitched four scoreless innings to give Post 53 a 7-6 11-inning victory over Winchester Post 21.

“I felt good,” Abel said. “My heart was racing the whole time. I kept my composure because I had faith in my teammates because I know everybody out there will lay it all on the line to make a play.”

Abel, who said he was only throwing fastballs, entered the game in the bottom of the eighth after Post 53 had just tied the game at 6-6. Post 21 was able to get two runners on in the ninth, 10th and 11th innings, but each time Abel was able to pitch his way out of it.

He only allowed two hits in four innings and struck out four.

“He pitched tremendously,” Post 53 manager Rick Almarode said. “That’s his third outing of the year, I believe, and he’s just pitched tremendously.”

Post 53 (6-3) scored the winning run in the top of the 11th off Post 21 reliever Chase Smallwood. Joe Rutherford led off the inning with a single and stole second. Rutherford then scored on a two-base error on a ball hit by Robert Presley.

“These kids will not quit,” Almarode said. “That’s what I love about them the most. They got the most heart of any team I’ve ever coached.”

Post 21 (5-3) was able to put runners on first and second with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, but Abel induced a pop up from Connor Stevenson to end the game.

It was Post 53’s first victory over Post 21 in several years.

The game went back and forth throughout the early innings. The teams traded leads until Post 21 took a 6-4 lead with a three-run sixth inning.

Trailing 4-3 in the sixth, Post 21 got a lift from their bench. Stevenson, who replaced Cohen Kerns at catcher, was hit by a pitch from Post 53 reliever Sterling Jennings. Raymond Reigle, also off Post 21’s bench, reached on a three-base error to tie the game at 4-4.

With two outs, Adam Whitacre doubled down the right-field line to give Post 21 a 5-4 edge. Whitacre later scored on an error for a 6-4 lead.

“Guys that came off the bench gave us a good lift, and I’m always happy when that happens,” Post 21 manager Anthony Hargrove said.

Post 53 tied the game in the top of the eighth. Corey Sibert led off with a single off Post 21 reliever Andrew Loudan. Sterling Jennings drew a walk and an error on a ball hit by Robert Rutherford loaded the bases with no outs. Gavin Kandrick followed with an RBI single down the left-field line to cut the lead to 6-5.

Smallwood came on in relief for Post 21 and was able to get a strikeout and a force out at home, but a walk to Marcus Burke tied the game at 6-6.

Both teams stranded a lot of runners. Post 21 left 16 runners on base, while Post 53 stranded 19. Post 21 used five different pitchers, while Post 53 used only three. Post 53’s Joe Pingley went a solid five innings, allowing just two hits and striking out four. The two teams combined for 17 walks, nine hit batsmen and seven errors.

Sibert and Joe Rutherford each had two hits to lead Post 53.

Despite the win, Almarode said his team needs to stay focused because it’s a long season ahead.

“It is a great win, but we have to come back to reality here,” Almarode said. “It’s only one game. We got to keep battling, keep playing well.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com