Quaranta shines in debut as Express top Royals

WINCHESTER – Brandon Quaranta joined the Strasburg Express earlier this week, and he brought his bat with him.

Making his Valley Baseball League debut Thursday night, Quaranta ripped three hits – including a solo home run and a triple – while driving in three RBIs. His big day at the plate, coupled with a solid starting pitching effort from right-hander Benjamin Dum, powered the Express to a 7-3 win over Winchester in a battle of the top two teams in the North Division at Bridgeforth Field.

“How about that?” Express manager Butch Barnes said of Quaranta’s debut performance, which included a scoreless ninth inning on the mound for the right-hander from Philadelphia University. “He swings it pretty well. I’ll be honest, if he’d been at our place he would’ve had two home runs, maybe three. And then he comes in and closes it out, does a good job for us there. That’s his role. He’s a pitcher-slash-DH.”

Quaranta was one part of a power-hitting tandem for Strasburg on Thursday night, as he and Carter Pharis combined for five hits and five RBIs to help the Express (16-6) race out to an early lead over the Royals (13-9).

Speedster Haiden Lamb got things rolling for the Express in the top of the first inning, as he bunted for a single on the first pitch of the game, immediately stole second, moved to third on Erick Delgado’s sacrifice bunt and scored on Pharis’ double down the right-field line. Strasburg had a 1-0 lead five pitches into the game.

“Erick put that sac bunt down, that’s just team baseball. That was awesome,” said Pharis, who was 2-for-5 with two doubles and two RBIs.

Quaranta gave his new team a two-run lead to lead off the second inning, as he worked the count full before hitting a fastball from Winchester starter Jon Peterson off the scoreboard in left-center.

“I was looking for a pitch, a good fastball, and he threw me a fastball on 3-2. I tried to put a good swing on it,” Quaranta said. “Personally I didn’t think it was gonna go but I guess I got a little juice on it.”

Strasburg continued to pad its lead in the third inning with three more runs off Peterson, a spurt that began with Delgado’s one-out double that Pharis followed with one of his own to give the Express a 3-0 lead. Quaranta made it 5-0 with a two-out, two-run triple to straightaway center.

Five of Strasburg’s first six hits went for extra bases, and the Express hit nine of their 11 hits in the first five innings. Four different players had at least two hits for the Express, with Lamb and Delgado joining Pharis and Quaranta.

“Hitting’s contagious,” Pharis said. “Luckily guys got in good scoring position and we put a good swing on it. And this guy here (Quaranta) showing up and showing out, it was awesome.”

Quaranta, who singled in his third at-bat in the fifth inning, was a double shy of the cycle.

“A couple of the guys were talking about it but I’m not trying to think about it,” Quaranta said. “I’m just trying to get on base and make my team win.”

Strasburg’s early offensive outburst was plenty for Dum, who lasted 6 1/3 innings while allowing two earned runs on six hits and three strikeouts. He didn’t walk a batter.

The Royals’ two runs off the right-hander from Virginia Commonwealth University came in the bottom of the third inning on an RBI double by Devin Gearhart and a run-scoring single by Matt Allen that cut Strasburg’s lead to 5-2.

Dum improved his record to 2-0 and has a 2.25 ERA in four starts with the Express.

“Lights out again,” Barnes said. “That young man has just been absolutely super for us. I mean from his first start at New Market to this one here, he goes out there every seven days and competes.”

Strasburg added a run off Royals reliever David Lee (three innings pitched, five strikeouts) in the sixth on Delgado’s RBI single up the middle before Winchester answered with a run in the eighth Spencer Levine’s run-scoring single on a grounder that took a high hop off the glove of Pharis at third base.

The Express added an insurance run in the ninth when Drew Avans led off with a single before eventually scoring on a wild pitch.

Quaranta allowed two hits in the bottom of the ninth but was helped out by a spectacular defensive play by Avans, who threw a dart from deep in the left-field corner to cut down Derek Gibree at second base for the second out as Gibree tried to stretch a single into a double.

Peterson took the loss for Winchester after allowing five earned runs on nine hits, a walk and two strikeouts.

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