River Bandits rally past Cardinals

Woodstock shortstop Nick Ward turns a double play ball as Front Royal's Clay Hunt slides into second during the second inning of Wednesday night's game at Bing Crosby Stadium. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – It was the break the River Bandits needed.

Front Royal starting pitcher Erne Valdes had stifled Woodstock through six innings of perfect baseball Wednesday night, but the Cardinals turned to their bullpen to start the seventh inning. The River Bandits promptly jumped on the opportunity – after failing to net a single baserunner through the first six frames, Woodstock put six men on base in the seventh, sent five of them across the plate and rode a solid pitching effort from Drew Mancuso for a 5-1 victory in the Valley Baseball League matchup at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Woodstock’s offensive woes through the first two-thirds of Wednesday’s game – which contributed to a 1-0 deficit – were quickly overcome when shortstop Nick Ward cued the decisive outburst by ripping the first pitch from Front Royal reliever Zac Wiley down the first-base line for a leadoff double.

“Nick had a heckuva game and that hit especially, I think it got everybody excited and ready to play,” said Bandits center fielder Jacob Tisevich, who had two of Woodstock’s seven hits.

Wiley’s third pitch of the inning resulted in Eric Garza’s line-drive single into left, and Tisevich – who ranks among the VBL leaders in batting average (.352) this summer – followed by dropping an RBI single into right-center to tie the game at 1-all and chase Wiley from the game.

Woodstock first baseman Will Decker wins the foot race to first base after Front Royal's Michael Hartnagel hit a ground ball that Decker was able to run down during third inning action Wednesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium. Rich Cooley/Daily

Three batters later, after an intentional walk to load the bases with one out, Cardinals right-hander Clay Hunt dealt a walk to Will Decker to plate the go-ahead run. An RBI groundout by Mattison Pike gave Woodstock (7-12) a two-run lead before Austin Young’s two-run single to center extended it to 5-1.

“I think we just loosened up a little bit,” said Tisevich, who was one of four Bandits to strike out in each of their first two plate appearances against Valdes. “Early on in the game we weren’t swinging well and that kind of tightened us up. I don’t know what really changed but everybody just kind of relaxed. Maybe it was that guy going out of the game, but just relaxed and seemed to string stuff together.”

Front Royal (12-10) manager Victor Gomez said he chose to remove Valdes, a sophomore from St. Thomas University of Miami, after the sixth inning in the midst of a perfect game because the left-hander was pitching on five days’ rest for the first time this summer. Valdes threw 69 pitches.

“He’s a special arm and my job is to come out here and win ballgames, without a doubt, but before that my job is to get these guys back to the schools they play for healthy,” Gomez said.

“He got to his point and I had that number in my head the entire time. How he got to it, obviously, was a special way, but he wasn’t going nine anyways so it wasn’t gonna happen.”

Front Royal's right fielder Joshua Magee appears to give his shadow a high five as he braces himself after catching a fly ball at the right field wall Wednesday night during the fifth inning against Woodstock. Rich Cooley/Daily

Valdes, who lowered his ERA to 0.91 across five starts, was nearly untouchable in his six innings of work, as he struck out 12 batters, including the final four he faced. Nine of those strikeouts came via the curveball, which Valdes buried in the dirt for strike three on seven different occasions.

“It almost looked like he was throwing a couple different curveballs,” Tisevich said. “He threw a heckuva game and, like I said, it changed the game when he came out of the game.”

Woodstock’s seventh-inning rally made a winner of Mancuso, who pitched seven innings in his first start of the summer for the River Bandits. Mancuso, who had made six appearances in relief prior to Wednesday, allowed one unearned run on six hits and six strikeouts.

“I had the fastball inside, outside. Both sides of the plate was really my success there,” said the left-hander from the University of the South, who improved to 2-0 this summer.

Mancuso stranded five Cardinals baserunners in the win, including four in scoring position through the first four innings.

Woodstock's Drew Mancuso fires a pitch against Front Royal in a game last season at Bing Crosby Stadium. Mancuso and the River Bandits are off to a 5-4 start this season. Rich Cooley/Daily file

“It was big. That’s definitely something that can turn a game,” Mancusa said. “If they get runs early that can really knock us off the rail, but my defense made some nice plays and we shut it down, so that was good to see.”

Front Royal’s lone run came in the bottom of the fourth, when Chris Bec (2-for-4, two doubles) led off with a double and scored on a Bandits throwing error with two outs.

Mancusa’s strong outing on the mound was a welcome sight for Woodstock manager Kyle Ward, whose team entered Wednesday with the worst team ERA in the VBL while losing eight of its previous 10 games.

“Drew gave us a great start, something we’ve been looking for,” Kyle Ward said. “We’ve been kind of hurting on the mound and he was able to go to there and compete for seven innings for us, which we knew he was gonna do. We just didn’t know how long he was gonna be able to do it. It just happened to work out that way.”

Easton Fuller pitched the final two innings for Woodstock and struck out four while allowing one hit.

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

Woodstock's Christian Leung, left, greets teammate Will Decker after Decker crosses home plate during the seventh inning of Wednesday night's game against Front Royal at Bing Crosby Stadium. Woodstock scored five runs in the seventh inning to defeat Woodstock 5-1. Rich Cooley/Daily

Woodstock's Christian Leung runs underneath a foul ball hit by Front Royal's Sebastian Diaz near the fence to make an out during seventh inning action Wednesday night. Rich Cooley/Daily