Wiley, Cardinals power past River Bandits

FRONT ROYAL – As the end of the Valley Baseball League regular season draws near, Front Royal is hoping to strengthen its hold on a playoff spot. The Cardinals took a step in that direction Tuesday night with an offensive outburst against visiting Woodstock.

Right fielder Zac Wiley drove in five runs while Front Royal tallied seven extra-base hits, and the Cardinals got another solid outing from starting pitcher Blake Whitney en route to a 10-4 win at Bing Crosby Stadium.

The victory tightened Front Royal’s grasp on third place in the North Division, while simultaneously dealing a crushing blow to Woodstock’s own playoff hopes.

“Definitely a good one,” said Cardinals manager Victor Gomez, whose team had lost six of eight entering Tuesday. “All games are important, but we’re getting closer to the end and we’ve got two teams playing well right behind us. We came out and played a good ballgame here. It was a good team win.”

The Cardinals (18-18) hold a three-game lead over New Market for third place in the North, while the River Bandits (10-26) are five games out of the fourth and final playoff spot in the division with six games remaining.

Front Royal set the tone for the night quickly by rallying for three runs with two outs in the bottom of the first inning off Woodstock starter Drew Mancuso. Shortstop Bernabe Camargo kicked off the rally with a double to right-center, which Wiley followed with a double to right to give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead. Kevin Williams Jr. then looped an RBI single into right field, followed by Tanner Halstead’s run-scoring infield single that glanced off the glove of Mancuso for a 3-0 lead.

The Cardinals’ first four hitters – Michael Hartnagel, Tyler Kaiser, Camargo (2-for-5, two doubles) and Wiley – combined for five doubles, a homer, seven RBIs and seven runs scored.

“I think it was just the fact that we’re seeing the ball and we were committed to hitting it to the right side of the field,” said Wiley, who was 4-for-4 to lead Front Royal’s 12-hit attack. “I know when we get pull-happy we roll over on a lot of things, a lot of groundballs to third and short, but when we drive the ball and try to hit to right field it’s more constant.”

The River Bandits countered in the top of the second with a pair of runs. Christian Leung led off the inning with a swinging-bunt single down the third base line, moved to third on Cole German’s one-out double and scored on a wild pitch. Sean Scales cut Front Royal’s lead to 3-2 when he grounded an RBI single into left to score German.

Wiley swung momentum back in Front Royal’s favor in the third inning with a two-run homer to right-center – his fifth this summer – for a 5-2 Cardinals lead.

“Seeing it well. I knew I was gonna go up there and see first pitch fastball because he’d just walked a guy,” Wiley said. “I went up and just put a good swing on it. I didn’t even think it got out, I thought it hit off the net so I stopped at second base.”

Woodstock wouldn’t get closer for the rest of the night, as Whitney (3-2) limited the River Bandits to three runs on six hits, a walk and six strikeouts over six innings of work. The right-hander from the University of South Carolina Upstate allowed just two hits after the second inning.

“That’s what he does. He’s been doing it all year long for us,” Gomez said. “It’s nice for him to finally get some runs there early so he doesn’t have to be pitching in such a tense atmosphere all the time. Blake goes out there, he’s gonna pound the zone, and even when he gets himself in trouble he’s gonna fight and give us a shot. It was good to see him get that win tonight.”

Front Royal took a 6-2 lead in the fourth inning when Josh Magee led off with a first-pitch homer, his third. The River Bandits got a run back in the top of the sixth when Jacob Tisevich doubled and scored on Kevin Bryant Jr.’s RBI groundout, but the Cardinals came back with four runs in the bottom half to put the game out of reach.

Back-to-back RBI doubles by Hartnagel and Kaiser chased Mancuso from the game with one out in the sixth, and Camargo followed with a third straight double before Wiley gave Front Royal a 10-3 lead with a two-run single.

Mancuso, who limited the Cardinals to an unearned run over seven innings in a win earlier this season, was tagged for nine runs (seven earned) on Tuesday on 10 hits, two walks, a hit batter and four strikeouts. He suffered his first loss of the summer.

“Drew, I mean, just two pitches he messed up on, they hit them out of the park,” River Bandits manager Kyle Ward said. “Drew’s a guy who goes up there and competes for us. He’s gonna be a Marine in another year. I mean I’ll take that guy to battle with me any day.”

Lukas Veinbergs tossed the final 2.2 innings for Woodstock, allowing an earned run on two hits while striking out three.

Jacob Ramos tossed a hitless inning of relief for Front Royal, while Jared Drayton pitched the final two innings and allowed an unearned run on four hits and two strikeouts.

The River Bandits, who had 10 hits in the loss, loaded the bases in the top of the ninth but managed just one run on Eric Garza’s RBI single.

“It’s just one of those nights that you just don’t find the holes,” Ward said. “Even though Christian (Leung) had three hits, and he had three dinkers, it was just one of those nights where the other eight guys just couldn’t find the holes.”

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