Nealy, Johnson lead Express in home debut

STRASBURG — Strasburg finally got to play a home game and Colby Nealy and Drew Johnson helped insure that it would be a successful debut.

Nealy had a solid pitching performance and Johnson homered in his first at-bat to lead the Express to an 8-5 Valley Baseball League victory over Woodstock on Monday at First Bank Park.

“We definitely had to get the win,” Nealy said. “We were pretty confident coming in. We had a little hiccup [Sunday in a loss to Front Royal], but we knew we had to give the hometown some fun.”

Nealy (Washington State University) certainly did his part. He pitched eight innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

Through the first six innings, he had allowed only two hits and thrown 57 pitches.

“All my pitches were working pretty well,” Nealy said. “My defense played great behind me, so that was definitely a huge plus. I’m definitely a ground ball pitcher, so I thought my infield played really well today.”

Nealy was given a quick lead thanks in part to Johnson (Cedarville University). Donovan May singled to start the game for the Express against Woodstock starter Hunter McIntosh. Johnson followed with a two-run home run.

“I got a little bit behind in the count there in the first at-bat. I was excited being out here for the opening,” Johnson said. “I got a curveball on the outside middle-half and went with it and luckily it sailed out of here.”

The Express built a 5-0 lead after three innings, and Woodstock went to reliever Danny Lutz, who pitched three solid innings.

“Danny Lutz was huge for us getting us into the sixth inning — that was huge,” Woodstock manager Phil Betterly said. “Just being able to challenge hitters. When you have to go to the bullpen that early that’s your goal — to get the guy into the sixth inning at least — and he did exactly what we wanted him to do.”

The River Bandits rallied for two runs in the top of the seventh and three more in the eighth.

However after Woodstock cut the lead to 5-2, the Express responded with a three-run seventh.

Johnson led off with a triple, and a Jeff Scott RBI double extended the lead to 6-2. With two outs, back-to-back RBI singles by Danny Rafferty and Yan Rivera extended the lead to 8-2.

“Those insurance runs were incredibly important, especially after Woodstock came back with the three-run home run,” Strasburg manager Stephanos Stroop said. “That was great. I was really particularly happy with Yan Rivera. He had been struggling at the plate some and he had a nice big hit up the middle that scored some very important insurance runs.”

Woodstock’s Justin Woods had a three-run homer in the top of the eighth. He led the River Bandits with two doubles and and a home run.

The Express had 12 hits, and every batter reached base at least once during the game.

“It’s huge, especially in tight ballgames,” Johnson said of Strasburg’s balanced offense. “It doesn’t matter where our order is, we can hit the ball up and down the order.”

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