Missed chances costly to Cardinals

FRONT ROYAL – The Front Royal Cardinals struggled to find the key hit against visiting Aldie Tuesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The Cardinals left seven runners on base and were held scoreless through the first seven innings, while a key defensive mistake by Front Royal started the Senators’ decisive rally in the eighth inning of Aldie’s 4-1 Valley Baseball League victory.

Front Royal didn’t get a chance to bat in the bottom of the ninth inning as thunderstorms forced the game to be called three outs from completion.

“No adjustments at the plate,” Cardinals manager Brad Neffendorf said. “Leave too many guys on base. Got a couple good pieces where we hit the ball hard to a guy but other than that, free bases beat us.”

The Cardinals (11-9) and Aldie (8-11) were locked in a scoreless tie until Front Royal’s second error of the game sparked a three-run rally for the Senators in the top of the eighth inning.

It all began when Nick Fuhrmann, Aldie’s No. 9 hitter, hit a routine grounder to Cardinals third baseman Chase Lunceford, whose errant throw skipped past first baseman Greg Lambert to the fence and allowed Fuhrmann to advance all the way to third base.

Neffendorf said the error “absolutely” changed the face of the game.

“He’s played great defense this year, so I’m not going to put that on him,” Neffendorf said. “He’s been phenomenal in the field but didn’t maintain pace of the arm, took a little off it and lobbed it over. We’ve got to do a good job of getting off first base and blocking that ball so it doesn’t go by us.”

After Cardinals reliever Joe Romero (2 1/3 innings pitched, two runs allowed) dealt a walk to leadoff man Garrett Vrbanic, Neffendorf opted to go with the lefty-lefty matchup and brought in Patrick Coffin. Coffin loaded the bases by walking Andrew Seigel to prompt another pitching change.

Aldie’s Weber Pike broke the scoreless tie with a two-run double to right-center off Jamie Thaggard, and Jake Brodt gave the Senators a 3-0 lead with an RBI single to left field off Cody Puckett, the fourth pitcher of the inning for Front Royal.

That would be plenty of offense for Aldie, which got seven scoreless innings out of starting pitcher Joe Williams. The sophomore left-hander from George Mason University allowed five hits and one walk, though he didn’t record a strikeout.

Senators assistant coach Kyle Ward, who filled in for manager Erik Lemley following his ejection after Vrbanic was thrown out at the plate by Front Royal shortstop Wardy Polanco in the sixth inning, said Williams was able to “make adjustments from the beginning.”

“From the beginning he was just kind of just leaving his arm dragging a little bit,” Ward said. “He was able to just go out there and compete and make good adjustments as the game went on.”

The Cardinals cut into the deficit in the bottom of the eighth when Sherando graduate Tre Porter came in to pinch hit for Lunceford and lined a two-out RBI double to left field off Aldie reliever Johnny Debity. But Front Royal left the tying run in scoring position as Aaron Stubblefield popped out to short to end the threat.

“They capitalized with runners on base and we didn’t,” Neffendorf said.

Aldie added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on Fuhrmann’s sacrifice fly before the game was called due to weather.

Aside from the eighth inning, Front Royal enjoyed solid pitching. Starter Luke Burnidge (three hits, three walks, six strikeouts) pitched five-plus innings of shutout baseball before giving way to Romero, who got the Cardinals out of a jam in the sixth. Romero was helped out by his defense in that inning, as Polanco made a heads-up play on a throw to second following a wild pitch and threw out Vrbanic at the plate.

“We’ve pitched well, I think, 95 percent of the summer. We’ve pitched pretty well and kept us in ballgames,” Neffendorf said. “It just comes down to executing with runners on base, and an error.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com