Cardinals top River Bandits

FRONT ROYAL – On a night when Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf resorted to trying everything he could to help his team scrape across a few runs, the Cardinals leaned heavily on pitching – and the arms delivered.

Starting pitcher Luke Burnidge tossed 6 1/3 scoreless innings and Randy Dobnak shut down visiting Woodstock the rest of the way as Front Royal picked up a 4-0 victory Tuesday in the opening round of the Valley Baseball League playoffs at Bing Crosby Stadium.

With Tuesday’s win, the Cardinals staked a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three North Division quarterfinal series, which will continue Wednesday night with an 8 p.m. game at Woodstock.

“I knew it was going to be big to come out here and win the first game in a three-game set,” Burnidge said. “That puts the other team up against the wall, and I wanted to keep us out of that situation.”

Burnidge, a rising senior from Drury University, did his part to make sure Front Royal – the top seed out of the North – avoided an early playoff deficit. Over his 6 1/3 innings, the left-hander held the River Bandits to three hits and three walks while striking out six in the winning effort.

Burnidge’s win on Tuesday was his fourth in as many starts.

“He gets at that point where he’s in and out of counts and it kept them off-guard,” Neffendorf said. “He got ahead and he had the breaking ball, the slider – he could use both to both sides – and the changeup and everything runs away. … When you can run it away from the barrel like Luke did he did a good job for us.”

Burnidge’s effort on the mound helped counteract what could’ve been a very frustrating game for the Cardinals’ offense, which stranded seven baserunners in the first four innings before finally breaking through for three runs in a decisive fifth inning.

After Woodstock starting pitcher Mike Scimanico (three hits, five walks, four strikeouts) labored through four scoreless innings, River Bandits manager Phil Betterly turned to reliever Hunter McIntosh to pitch the bottom of the fifth.

Drew Small and Edgar Lebron led off the inning with back-to-back singles off the right-hander and, following a pair of outs on a sacrifice bunt and a fly out to shallow center field, catcher Colby Dishmond beat out an infield single to drive in the game’s first run. On the play, Woodstock shortstop Joey Aiola made a great diving backhand stop and nearly threw out Dishmond from his knees.

Front Royal added two more runs in the inning as Lebron stole home on a delayed attempt and a pair of Woodstock errors allowed Dishmond to score.

The Cardinals, which saw a squeeze-bunt attempt with two strikes turn into an inning-ending double play in the fourth inning, scored only one of their runs via hit.

“It made me look like an idiot but we tried everything that we could right there,” Neffendorf said of Front Royal’s offensive woes.

Front Royal added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Dalton Rogers walked and came around to score following three wild pitches.

Woodstock did manage to find a bit of success getting runners on base against Burnidge in the later innings, although the River Bandits stranded seven combined runners in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Cardinals shortstop Chase Lunceford played a big role in Woodstock’s dry spell, as he made what Neffendorf called a game changing play in the sixth inning when he made a lunging backhand stop and an off-balance throw to third base to get the lead runner on a fielder’s choice.

Dobnak allowed only one hit and a walk while striking out three in 2 2/3 innings to earn the save.

“You’ve got to tip your cap to both their guys because when you throw three to four pitches for strikes they’re going to beat a lot of teams on any given night,” said Betterly, whose team won a play-in game Monday night to earn the fourth and final playoff spot in the North Division. “They did a good job. Our guys battled. Scimanico did a good job competing, and so did [reliever] Brady Jones and Hunter McIntosh coming into the game. But they executed when they needed to on offense and they did a heck of a job.”

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