Streak Halted: Hartsell’s gem leads Tom Sox over Cardinals

Front Royal's third baseman Bernabe Camargo prepares to put the tag on Charlottesville's Jack Morris as he attempts a third base steal during the sixth inning of Tuesday night's game at Bing Crosby Stadium. Morris was called safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Wil Hartsell put a screeching halt to Front Royal’s season-opening winning streak.

The Cardinals entered Tuesday’s Valley Baseball League game against Charlottesville having won each of their first four games while scoring 26 runs in that span, but the Tom Sox right-hander held Front Royal to just one hit over eight innings of work as Charlottesville picked up a 6-0 win.

“Anytime a pitcher goes out there and throws eight innings … you’ve gotta give him credit off the bat,” Cardinals first-year manager Victor Gomez said, “but we didn’t do a good job of making it tough for him to get us out. We didn’t put the ball in play enough, expanded our zone with two strikes too often and didn’t take care of the little things. … We just weren’t able to extend our at-bats like we wanted to.”

Front Royal’s lone hit in the shutout loss came in the bottom of the first inning, when right fielder Chris Bec turned on a 3-2 fastball from Hartsell and hit a sharp groundball into left field for a two-out single. Hartsell would allow just two more baserunners the rest of the night while striking out eight and walking one.

“Just tried to pound the zone and let the defense work,” said Hartsell, a sophomore from Charleston Southern University. “They made some good plays behind me, so it just ended up working out.”

Front Royal's Stephen Xirinachs fires a pitch during a game against Charlottesville earlier this season at Bing Crosby Stadium. Rich Cooley/Daily

Backed by some slick fielding from shortstop Bruce Steel and the rest of the Tom Sox defense, Hartsell generated 12 groundouts to go along with his eight strikeouts among his 24 batters retired. He needed just 81 pitches to get through the first seven innings.

Hartsell retired 15 straight batters after Bec’s single in the first inning, a streak that was broken with two outs in the sixth by a throwing error on Michael Hartnagel’s grounder to third. Hartnagel motored all the way to third as the ball rolled up the fence down the right-field line, but Hartsell induced a groundout to end the inning and retired the next six before dealing a two-out walk to Marty Napleton in the eighth.

“I kind of got in a groove and just trying to pound fastballs in there,” Hartsell said. “They were getting in, swinging at a few high late in counts that ended up helping me out.”

Hartsell’s stellar season debut was aided by some early offense from the Tom Sox (2-1), who struck for two runs in the top of the first inning off Front Royal (4-1) starter Stephen Xirinachs.

The Cardinals right-hander worked himself into a jam by dealing back-to-back walks with one out in the opening frame, which was then compounded by a Front Royal error – the first of four for the Cardinals in the loss – that allowed Dan Brumbaugh to score the game’s initial run.

Front Royal second baseman Michael Centeno turns a double play during sixth inning action as Charlottesville's Jake Allen slides into the bag. Rich Cooley/Daily

A second run crossed the plate on Mitchell Webb’s fielder’s choice, as Cardinals second baseman Michael Centeno lost the ball on the exchange trying to turn a double play.

Xirinachs, a senior from the University of Massachusetts Lowell, allowed four walks and two hits over five innings of work but stranded six runners and kept Charlottesville off the board after the first inning. The right-hander struck out four and threw 102 pitches.

“Stephen’s a bulldog,” Gomez said. “He’s an experienced guy. You feel good about him going out there anytime because even on a night like tonight where he doesn’t have his best stuff, he’s still gonna give you a chance to win. And that’s exactly what he did. His pitch count went up but he’s a strong boy and he kind of gets stronger as the game goes on. … He did his job. He kept us in it and we just couldn’t get anything going offensively tonight.”

The Tom Sox added to their lead in the sixth inning with a run off Cardinals reliever Clay Hunt, when Jake Allen (2-for-3) dropped a looping RBI single into left field with one out.

Charlottesville added three more in the top of the ninth inning off Mitch Stophel, who was hurt by a one-out error before he dealt three straight walks, the third of which plated the game’s fourth run. A wild pitch allowed another run to score, and Dan Wondrack’s RBI single gave the Tom Sox a 6-0 lead.

Front Royal second baseman Michael Centeno drops the ball as he tries to complete part two of a double play ball during the third inning of Tuesday night's game at Bing Crosby Stadium. Charlottesville's Kevin Conway was called out at second. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal, which allowed six hits to Charlottesville, has committed 12 errors in the first five games of 2016.

“It’s just simple plays too. It’s not anything too complicated,” Gomez said. “I don’t expect these guys to come out here and make diving catches or anyting like that. I mean those things happen on their own. But the easy ones – the word easy’s in it for a reason. … We’ll go back and have a good talk tonight after a good start. It’s good to be humbled and that’s what we were this evening, for sure.”

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

Charlottesville's Jack Morris slides into second base on a steal during sixth inning action as Front Royal's Michael Centeno leaps to catch a high throw. Rich Cooley/Daily