Cards fall to Royals

FRONT ROYAL – The Front Royal Cardinals let one get away Thursday night at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The Cardinals carried a one-run lead into the top of the ninth inning against visiting Winchester, only to see the Royals rally for a pair of runs and a 3-2 Valley Baseball League victory.

Front Royal, which has lost two straight since winning eight of 10 ballgames, committed back-to-back errors and dealt a bases-loaded walk to plate the tying and go-ahead runs for the Royals in the ninth inning.

“We gave them that game,” said Cardinals manager Brad Neffendorf, whose team held a 2½-game lead in the North Division prior to Thursday’s loss.

Trailing 2-1 in the top of the ninth inning, Winchester (15-16) got the decisive rally started with Nathaniel Maggio yanked a one-out single to right field off Cardinals reliever Chris Gammon. A hit batter put two on for the Royals before two straight Front Royal (19-14) errors allowed the tying run to score.

The Cardinals’ first error came when second baseman Tre Porter couldn’t handle a low throw from shortstop Wardy Polanco as Polanco tried to get a force out at second base. With the bases loaded, Polanco committed the second error of the frame when he tried to barehand a slow roller off the bat of Spencer Levine. The ball squirted past Polanco and allowed pinch runner Luke Gibbs to score.

Winchester scored the go-ahead run two batters later when pinch hitter Daniel Brumbaugh worked a four-pitch walk from Mario Morales with the bases loaded and two outs.

“We didn’t minimize, didn’t get outs,” Neffendorf said. “We had a chance to get a couple outs there. Obviously they were tough plays … [but] we didn’t minimize the situation like we should’ve.”

Front Royal’s defense had been solid through the first eight innings against Winchester as the Cardinals’ middle infield turned a pair of double plays to support a stellar starting pitching performance from right-hander Randy Dobnak.

Dobnak, a rising junior from Alderson Broaddus University, pitched seven innings and allowed one earned run on six hits, a walk and eight strikeouts. The Royals’ lone run off Dobnak came on Levine’s solo home run to left field to lead off the top of the fifth inning.

“He pounded the zone, commanded all his pitches, threw them in every count,” Neffendorf said of Dobnak. “One pitch up but heck, one run in seven innings, he did a tremendous job.”

The Cardinals’ offense missed on a few opportunities to provide Dobnak with more run support, as Front Royal stranded seven runners on base, including six in the first five innings.

Front Royal scored the game’s first run with two outs in the bottom of the third inning when Erick Quesada scored on a passed ball by Winchester catcher Hayden Platt. Porter (2-for-3), a Sherando High School graduate, gave the Cardinals a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning when he hit an RBI single to left field that scored Polanco.

Winchester, which sits in the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division, enjoyed a solid combined effort on the mound from four different pitchers. Starting pitcher Drew Cosby tossed five innings and allowed both Cardinals runs on six hits and three walks while Darrell Thompson (another Sherando grad and rising senior at Shenandoah University), Matthew Smallwood and John Barr combined to pitch four shutout innings in relief.

Barr picked up his fifth save of the season after triggering a game-ending 1-6-3 double play.

“Crosby, he got us to there with those two runs,” Royals manager Stu Richardson said, “and really one of those shouldn’t have been scored. … He probably threw the best.”

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