River Bandits beat Cards to even playoff series

WOODSTOCK – Facing playoff elimination for the second time in three days, the Woodstock River Bandits continued to keep their season alive Wednesday night in the second game of a best-of-3 Valley Baseball League playoff series against Front Royal.

The River Bandits banged out 12 hits while four pitchers combined to limit the Cardinals to a pair of runs as Woodstock picked up a 6-2 victory. Woodstock’s win forces a decisive Game 3 in the quarterfinal series at 7 p.m. tonight at Front Royal’s Bing Crosby Stadium.

“First off we got a great effort from everybody,” River Bandits manager Phil Betterly said. “We were able to execute in all phases of the game tonight – pitching, defense and hitting. We were able to get the timely hits. All of our pitchers pounded the strike zone tonight. So I’m proud of those guys and the effort they gave. We’re having fun and playing hard and we’re doing a good job of executing in all phases.”

Woodstock, the fourth seed in the North Division, staked itself an early lead on Wednesday night on Justin Woods’ RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the first inning. The River Bandits, who never trailed in the game, went on to score single runs in the third and sixth innings before adding three insurance runs in the eighth.

The River Bandits put the lead-off batter on base in five of their eight at-bats and ended up scoring on three of those occasions.

“It allowed us to play our game,” Betterly said. “It allowed us to do some things, executing as far as just being able to move guys over, get them in. When we’re able to get the leadoff guy on it gives us the opportunities we need and … I don’t expect anything less of these guys.”

Woodstock, like Front Royal, used four different pitchers to complete the victory, as Joey Johnson (four innings pitched), Ronnie Broyles, Hunter Morgan and Chris Ward all saw action for the River Bandits. But unlike the Cardinals, the River Bandits’ pitchers were able to hold the opposing offense in check.

That Woodstock quartet limited Front Royal to two earned runs on nine hits. Morgan, who earned the win after coming on in relief in the fifth inning, retired the first seven batters he faced and threw three innings while allowing one earned run on two hits, a walk and two strikeouts. Ward earned the save for the River Bandits.

Front Royal, the North’s top seed, scored a run in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk by Sherando High School graduate and Shepherd University junior Jacob Carney and another in the eighth on Colby Dishmond’s RBI single to right field.

The Cardinals stranded 11 baserunners – including four in the final two innings – and hit into two double plays, while three of their four pitchers were tagged for at least one earned run, with starter Josh Shepley (3 1/3 innings pitched) taking the loss.

Front Royal manager Brad Neffendorf said the River Bandits “flat out outplayed us.”

“I thought we came out a little bit flat tonight,” Neffendorf said. “I don’t know why. I’m a little bit stunned about that. They came out, they had a lot more grit than we did tonight.”

Woodstock took a 2-0 lead in the third inning on Erven Roper’s looping RBI single to center field, and an RBI triple to right field off the bat of leadoff man Andrew Selby gave the River Bandits a 3-1 lead in the sixth.

Selby provided Woodstock with an insurance run in the eighth inning when he dropped an RBI double down the left-field line for a 4-2 lead, and the River Bandits added two more runs in the inning on a bases-loaded walk by Collin Nyenhuis and an infield single by Woods.

Selby also made an impact in center field in the top of the ninth, as he made a diving catch on a sinking liner for the inning’s first out and ranged far to his left to snag a ball in the right-center field gap for the second out. Front Royal stranded two baserunners in the inning.

“I love that kid,” Betterly said of Selby. “… He gets great reads. That’s the biggest thing I see and that allows him to make plays like that. He knows what his strengths are and that’s why he’s in the lead-off spot – just being able to see pitches, work a walk. That sets the tone. Just the effort he gives day in and day out, and the guys feed off of that.”

Designated hitter Will Robbins led Woodstock with three hits, including two infield singles, while Selby, Nyenhuis and Woods each had two hits.

Edgar Lebron, Greg Lambert and Dishmond had two hits apiece for Front Royal, which will enjoy home-field advantage for tonight’s decisive Game 3. The winner will advance to the semifinals against Strasburg, which swept Aldie in two games.

“I hope our guys respond the right way,” Neffendorf said.

“We do have one of our best [pitchers in Mario Morales] that was leading the league in ERA for the first half and I feel confident he’ll give us a shot. And we’ve got plenty out of the pen. We’ve just got to be a little bit better offensively.”

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