Cards clinch playoff spot

FRONT ROYAL — Front Royal used a sterling performance by pitcher Mike Elwood on Thursday night in setting down Woodstock 6-1 in a Valley Baseball League Eastern Division matchup at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The victory — the Cardinals’ second straight after having lost seven in a row — clinches a playoff spot for the 21-19 home team with two games left, according to team officials. They hit the road Friday night for a game at Strasburg and then visit Charles Town to close out the season Saturday.

Just where the Cardinals finish in the Eastern Division race — and thus their seeding in next week’s Valley Baseball League playoffs — is yet to be determined.

First-place Aldie (20-18 before Thursday’s action) and Strasburg (19-18, same), which was tied with the Cardinals for second, were playing a doubleheader on Thursday. The Senators held a slim half-game lead over the Cardinals and Express before the scores were culminated.

Woodstock (18-22) was 2 ½ games off the East lead heading into its game at Front Royal and was battling Winchester (17-20 prior to Thursday) for a playoff spot, too.

The top four teams in the VBL’s North and South sides will make post-season action.

Front Royal’s playoff ticket got punched largely because of Elwood, a recent acquisition from Canisius.

The lanky right-hander (1-1) was winless entering his start against Woodstock. In just two games, he had an inflated 9.00 ERA. But there was none of that as he held the River Bandits to no runs through eight innings. In fact, the Bandit bats could only accomplish four hits off his offerings.

Woodstock, which had averaged about eight runs per game as it had won seven of nine, did not reap a hit off Elwood after the fourth inning.

“He played for us last year and tonight he was great. He was mixing his pitches well on every count, and even threw a knuckler in there. He stayed ahead of guys like that. He’d work the count to 1-2, and then make his pitch from there,” said Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf.

“I just tried to make my pitches. I’d try to get ahead with a fastball and then work from there. The fact that my team backed me up with some early runs and then played great defense behind me was a help,” said Elwood.

Front Royal got on the scoreboard first in the lower half of the first. Leadoff hitter Tre Porter walked and moved to second on a base-hit bunt by Drew Small. Chase Lunsford sacrificed Porter and Small to second and third. Porter scored on a fielder’s choice for the 1-0 lead.

With one out, Woodstock got runners on first and second, but unassisted outs at third and first ended the River Bandit rally in the top of the fourth.

Front Royal picked up its second run in the fourth inning. Greg Lambert led off with a single to left. Colby Dishmond sacrificed him to second and he came home on Ron Farley’s RBI single. It was 2-0.

For the third straight inning, the Cards put their first runner on base in the bottom of the fifth when Edgar Lebron singled over short to start the inning. Tre Porter sacrificed Lebron to second, then Drew Small singled him home for a 3-0 lead. After the second out of the inning, Lambert’s second hit sent Small home for the four-run lead.

Another early baserunner led to a two-run sixth for the Cardinals. Dalton Rogers singled to right and moved to second on a sacrifice. After Matt Jones walked, Edgar Lebron laced a triple to right. to plate Rogers and Jones and push the lead to 6-0.

Woodstock scored its only run in the ninth after loading the bases against reliever Pat Coffin. Closer Chris Gammon entered to finish off the River Bandits.

Lebron (2-for-4) led the Cardinals with a run scored and two RBIs. Small was 2-for-4 with a run scored and one batted in. Greg Lambert also rapped a pair of hits in four trips. He contributed a run scored and two RBI.

Matt Koehler went 2-for-3 with a double.

“I’m happy to get this one,” said Elwood. “It’s nice to be in the playoffs.”