Struggles continue for Express in loss

STRASBURG – The struggles continued for the Strasburg Express Wednesday night against visiting Charles Town.

A costly eighth-inning error and a stagnant offense over the final three frames led to a 7-5 Valley Baseball League loss for Strasburg at First Bank Park, the team’s ninth defeat in its last 11 games.

The loss, which kept the Express 2½ games back of first place in the North Division following Front Royal’s loss to Aldie Wednesday night, left Strasburg manager Stephanos Stroop with few words.

“They outplayed us,” Stroop said.

Strasburg (16-15) has struggled defensively all summer long – the Express averages two errors a game – and that trend continued with three more errors on Wednesday night. None was bigger than Strasburg’s final error with two outs in the top of the eighth, when shortstop Trevor Rucker had a chopper off the bat of Anthony Spivey kick off the heel of his glove as he made a charging attempt to his right. The miscue allowed P.J. Harris to score and break a 5-5 tie.

Charles Town (13-20) added an insurance run in the top of the ninth when Riley McCown (3-for-4, two runs) led off with a single, moved to third on Bradley Jones’ double and scored on a sacrifice fly by Bryson Bowman.

That was plenty of offense for Cannons reliever Dillon Drabble, who retired all nine Strasburg hitters he faced in his three innings of work to pick up his second win of the Valley League season.

Charles Town manager Brett Fuller said the plan was to keep the game close and allow Drabble, who has made 12 relief appearances this summer, to “hopefully shut them down.”

“That’s what he’s done as of late, he’s shut everybody down that he’s thrown against,” Fuller said of Drabble, who had two strikeouts among his nine outs on Wednesday. “We needed a big effort tonight from him and we got it.”

The Cannons struck early against Strasburg starting pitcher Colby Nealy, as McCown led off the game with a single and later scored on an RBI fielder’s choice by Bowman.

Strasburg came right back with two runs in the bottom of the inning. Rucker and Donovan May led off the inning with back-to-back singles off Cannons starter Nicholas McIntyre, and both runners scored when Chris Akmon (2-for-4, double, two RBIs) snuck a chopper into left field with two outs to give Strasburg a 2-1 lead.

The Express added another run in the second inning on May’s RBI infield single before Charles Town answered with a pair of runs in the third to tie the game. McCown’s sacrifice fly and Jones’ RBI line-drive single to left field knotted the score at 3-3.

Strasburg broke the tie in the bottom of the third on Drew Avans’ RBI groundout. Charles Town came back with two more runs off Nealy to take a 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth on shortstop Cooper Coldiron’s two-run single to center field.

“We’ve got a relatively new shortstop, new second baseman and they’re solid defensively, and that was one of the things we wanted to shore up on, our defense,” Fuller said. “And actually both guys contributed tonight, both got a hit and Coldiron had a big hit.”

The Express got an offensive boost from a newcomer of its own in Rucker, who tied the game at 5-5 when he led off the bottom of the sixth with a line-drive home run to left field. Rucker, playing in his fourth game with Strasburg, went 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and two stolen bases from the leadoff spot.

Nealy lasted six innings for the Express and allowed five runs (three earned) on seven hits, two walks and two strikeouts. Reliever Tony Landi took the loss after allowing an unearned run in the eighth on two hits.

With Wednesday’s win Charles Town gained a game on Winchester, which is in fourth place in the North Division. The top four teams earn playoff bids and the Cannons are 2½ games out of securing one of those spots with nine games remaining on their schedule.

“We’re in a situation where every game is very meaningful for us right now,” Fuller said. “That gives us 13 wins now. In my opinion you’re probably going to need 18 or 19 to get in.”

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