Burnidge earns win for Cardinals

FRONT ROYAL — Front Royal starter Luke Burnidge started working on a new pitch several weeks ago and it paid of royally Tuesday night as he helped tame Covington in the Valley Baseball League at Bing Crosby.

Burnidge (2-2) helped stop the Lumber Jacks as he and two relievers hand-cuffed the visitors enroute to a 5-2 victory that helped the Cardinals (14-11) keep pace with North Division leader Strasburg, which was in charge of the North by 1 ½ games heading into the night’s action.

The Cardinals have won three of their last four games in large part due to a pitching staff that averaged a 3.44 earned run average coming in. Earlier, Burnidge had whipped these same Lumber Jacks for his first victory of the season.

Burnidge went 6 2/3 solid innings, giving up just two runs on six hits and striking out three. He was ably supported by set-up man Cody Puckett and closer Randy Dobnak. The latter struck out two after allowing a base hit in the ninth to solidify the win.

“I rely on a curveball, but a couple of weeks ago [manager Brad Neffendorf] said I should work on my cutter. So I threw it some in the bullpen and came out tonight and it just worked better,” said Burnidge, who plays for Drury.

The lefty was sailing along with two outs in the seventh when a quirky play in the outfield allowed Covington, 9-16 and losers of six straight, their first run. The Jacks play in the South Division of the VBL.

A routine pop-up to right field ended up dropping between two outfielders who were just a stretch and catch away from ending the inning. This perhaps prohibited Burnidge from completing his first game of the season.

It appeared that Front Royal centerfielder Edgar Lebron and rightfielder Greg Lambert each called for the ball then apparently decided to let the other outfielder catch the ball in what turned out to be a double by Covington first-baseman Peter Crocitto. The two-bagger permitted Ryan Alvarez to score the Lumber Jacks to score their first run.

Then Jason Baytop drove home Crocitto with the Jacks’ second run.

The Cardinals had already staked themselves a 3-0 lead, and, even though the Lumber Jacks scored a pair of runs in their half of the seventh, the snafu failed to be costly as Front Royal scored two runs in the eighth to seal the victory before the home crowd.

“I think each one of them called for the ball and then let the other one try to make the catch,” said Burnidge, “but it’s no big deal. That’s baseball and the main thing is, we won.”

The pitcher from Kansas City already had a solid curve ball as evidenced by his pre-game ERA of 3.92. He had already gone 18 1/3 innings this season with 16 strikeouts and just nine bases-on-balls. The crafty senior allowed just one walk against Covington this time around. Putting a so-called “cut” on the pitch merely adds to his arsenal.

“That’s the thing I’m going to try to take with me from (the Valley League). This league is about improving as an individual, but the team aspect is really important too,” said Burnidge. “We’ve got a good pitching staff and I think it shows.

Burnidge, Puckett, who went 1 1/3 innings while allowing just one hit and striking out two before making way for Dobnak.

Interestingly, Covington opened with Reid Clements, who was named to the South Division’s all-star team which will take on the North in the annual mid-season game Sunday in Harrisonburg.

“Didn’t know that,” said Burnidge. “I try not to get into stuff like that. I just go out and do what I can do.”

Coming off a difficult one-run loss Monday at Harrisonburg, Front Royal showed no after-effects before the home crowd as Drew Small singled to open the game, was sacrificed to second by No. 2 hitter Lebron and then came in on a single over the shortstop’s head by newcomer Dalton Rogers.

Rogers collected two hits in four trips and an RBI in just his second game of the season for the Cardinals. He came to the home team from the University of West Georgia.

Ahead 1-0, Front Royal chased Clements (2-1) in its half of the sixth.

Designated hitter Bobby Lang singled to center to start the frame off then moved to second on a Clements balk. Cleanup hitter Chase Lunceford smashed a double to left, which scored Lang. Then Rogers produced his second hit in the same vicinity as safety No. 1. This game Lunceford home for the 3-0 lead.

In came Justin Thigpen, who allowed no earned runs in 1 2/3 innings.

Having permitted Covington to pull within 3-2, the Cardinals went back to work in the eighth. Colby Dishmond walked with one out and then stole second. Shortstop Wardy Polanco, hitting eighth, drilled a ball to deep center field that went for a triple as Dishmond hustled home. Sherando grad and Shepherd Ram Tre Porter then rapped a single to left to get home Dishmond.

Thigpen was relieved by Covington closer Joseph Marco.

After giving up a lead-off single to Lumber Jack Alvarez to start the ninth, Dobnak balked the former to second. But he caught the next two Jacks swinging and then had the final batter pop out.

“It was a good all around win,” said Burnidge. “We’re all here to work on our own stuff and get better. And that’s what we’re doing.”