Valdes pitches Cardinals past Express

Front Royal Cardinal's second baseman Michael Centeno waits on a throw as Strasburg's Jeffrey Scott steals second base during second inning action Wednesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL — Front Royal’s Erne Valdes struggled a little early in Wednesday night’s game, but he found his groove as the game went to lead the Cardinals to a victory.

Front Royal’s pitching staff held Strasburg to just two hits en route to a 7-1 Valley Baseball League victory.

“Erne is fun to watch pitch,” Front Royal manager Victor Gomez said. “He’s a kid — a little guy — comes out there and you don’t expect too much to jump out of his hand. But it comes really easy. He didn’t have his best stuff today. It’s easy to pitch when you have your best stuff. It’s when you don’t have it that you go out there and you compete and give me six innings and give your ball club a chance to win. He did a great job.”

Valdes walked four batters in the first three innings, but escaped the first two innings without giving up a run.

“At the beginning I was kind of missing up in the zone, but I had good defense and it worked it out,” Valdes said. “…I wasn’t really concentrating, but I kind of started concentrating after coach talked to me about it. I was into the game. I was paying attention after every pitch making sure I was focusing on what I had to do.”

Strasburg's third baseman Carter Pharis puts a tag on Front Royal's Joshua Magee as he slides into third base during second inning action Wednesday night at Bing Crosby Stadium. Magee was called safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Cardinals (6-6) took the lead in the bottom of the second inning. Front Royal’s Josh Magee reached on an infield single with one out. Kevin Williams Jr. followed with a single off Strasburg starting pitcher Josh Green. A wild pitch from Green allowed Green to score.

Rey Pastrana followed an RBI double for a 2-0 lead. Pastrana later scored on an error for a 3-0 advantage.

The Express (9-3) cut into the lead in the top of the third. Strasburg’s Tyler Halas drew a one-out walk by Front Royal starter Erne Valdes. Dylan Ingram doubled down the left-field line. With two outs, a wild pitch from Valdes scored Halas to cut the lead to 3-1.

Valdes went six innings, allowing just one hit and struck out six. Valdes retired the last 11 batters he faced.

“You just tip your hat to him,” Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said. “He kept us off balance. It was a great outing for him.”

Front Royal added to its lead in the bottom of the seventh. Front Royal’s Michael Hartnagel doubled to left field off Strasburg reliever Kelvin McAllister Jr. With one out, Zac Wiley hit a two-run homer for a 5-1 lead.

Munday followed with a double to right field, and one out later Williams drilled a pitch over the left-field wall for a 7-1 edge.

The Cardinals, who have struggled at times offensively this season, had 11 hits in the game.

“We’re having much better at-bats consistently on a nightly basis,” Gomez said. “We’re making it tough on these guys whenever they get ahead 1-0, 2-0 (in the count) making it tough on them. Making them work and throw pitches, and when you get a pitcher six, seven innings down the road, they get tired and that’s what we’re doing. They left a couple balls up for us, and we were able to take advantage of them.”

Strasburg’s Alex Galgano had a triple in the seventh for the other Express hit.

The Express have lost two straight after winning eight consecutive games.

“Nobody goes through the Valley League winning them all. We had a hot streak, and that’s what I just told them you’re going to struggle a little bit because you always do,” Barnes said. “When you lose a game and then you lose two, you start questioning yourself sometimes as a player. You try to do too much. You just got to relax and remember what got you there and go back to it.”

Williams led the Cardinals with three hits.

The Cardinals won their first four games and then lost five in a row last week, but have now won two of their last three games.

“The way this young season’s going for us, we’ve experienced some highs right off the bat. And last week had its lows,” Gomez said. “But when you look at the course of a long season that’s something that can give us a little bit of an edge, because we’ve already been through some adversity.”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com