Cardinals advance in VBL playoffs

FRONT ROYAL — With no outs in the top of the seventh Thursday, Front Royal Cardinals manager Brad Neffendorf handed the ball to reliever Randy Dobnak with the game in the balance.

Dobnak, who already had 36 strikeouts on the season, watched his team move out to a two-run advantage in sixth, but starter Mario Morales had left runners on second and third with no outs in the seventh.

All the righthander did was strike out the side and then hold off the Woodstock River Bandits in the Valley Baseball League North Division semifinals for a 5-2 victory and entry into tonight’s first game with Strasburg in the division’s championship round.

The Cardinals won their series with Woodstock 2-1 for the right to face Strasburg (a two-games-to-none victor over Aldie) in the best of two-of-three series which starts at Bing Crosby Stadium on Friday at 7 p.m. The Cardinals were the No. 1 seed in the North while Strasburg lined up at No. 2.

“At the first of the season, Randy [Dobnak] was kind of in-and-out, but lately in relief, he has been lights out and of course, what can you say about [Thursday]?” said Neffendorf, whose team has won five of its last six games.

Dobnak, who went 6-3 for NCAA Division II Alderson-Broaddus last spring, went the final three innings without allowing a run. He struck out five and allowed just two hits.

“Starting and relieving are two different things. When you start, you have time to warm up. But when he calls me in for relief, I pretty much have to pitch strikes,” said Dobnak.

That’s what he did, using a slider with a searing fastball to complement the pitch.

The loss ends the season for the River Bandits, who had won 10 of their last 13 games. The visiting River Bandits left nine runners on base.

“We had to play aggressive right from the start — have guys moving, stealing bases, sacrifices, whatever we could,” Neffendorf said.

“We’re on something of a roll right now, and our guys are thinking we can extend this thing,” said Dobnak.

Woodstock jumped ahead first.

River Bandit Andrew Selby walked in the top of the first and stole second. John Wilt singled to put two on.

With two outs, Erven Roper sent a broken bat single to right to score Selby.

In the bottom of the third, Front Royal’s Nick Hutchins led off with a single over short. He was sacrificed to second. Then Tre Porter walked. Drew Small clubbed a double to right to score Hutchins. He was followed by Edgar Lebron, who singled in Porter.

With Small on third, Greg Lambert sacrificed him home. The Cardinals led 3-1 after three.

The Cards added a fourth run in their half of the fourth. Chase Lunceford led off with a single to right. He was sacrificed to second and then a Matt Jones single over second plated Lunceford for a 4-1 lead.

Woodstock slammed Front Royal starter Mario Morales to start the top of the seventh. Ninth-hitter Matt Polak led off with a double to right and moved to third on Selby’s single. Wilt plated Polak with a double of his own.

Neffendorf pulled Morales in favor of his ace reliever. It was a smart move as the fire-throwing closer struck out the side.

Front Royal added a fifth run in its seventh. Porter led off the inning with a walk. He moved to second on Small’s single. Lebron sacrificed him to third. Then a passed ball scored him for a 5-2 advantage.

Woodstock loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the eight off reliever Axle Metzger, but could get no one across.

“We’ve kind of been up-and-down this season. We started off 19-11, then lost seven in a row in there, and now we’ve battled back. We lost a game [Wednesday at Woodstock], yet we battled back. We just keep coming,” said Neffendorf.

Small went 2-for-5 for the Cards with a double and two RBIs. Porter walked twice and scored two runs. Selby, Wilt and Erven Roper each had a pair of hits for the River Bandits. Wilt and Roper each had an RBI.