Win brings Express closer to top seed goal

New Market's shortstop Luke Manzo turns a double play as Strasburg's Erick Delgado slides into second base during the fifth inning of Wednesday night's game at First Bank Park in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily
New Market's third baseman Brendan Donovan gets an easy tag on Strasburg's Michael Curry for an out during fourth inning action Wednesday night at First Bank Park. Curry was on second and was moving following an infield grounder on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg's Tyler Halas is congratulated at home plate following a two-run homer during the second inning of Wednesday night's game. Rich Cooley/Daily
New Market's Daniel Kerwin, right, walks back into the dugout following a home run in the fifth inning. Rich Cooley/Daily
Strasburg Express manager Butch Barnes, center, has a discussion with catcher Michael Curry and pitcher Peyton Plumlee during the fifth inning of Wednesday night's game with New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – The Strasburg Express is trying to lock down the top seed in the Valley Baseball League North Division. New Market is simply trying to crack into the postseason field. When the two Shenandoah County teams met on the diamond Wednesday night, it was Strasburg that took a step closer to its goal.

Powered by a six-run outburst in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Express chugged to a 12-6 win over the Rebels at First Bank Park. The victory gave Strasburg a five-game lead over second-place Winchester with six regular-season games remaining, while New Market dropped into a tie with Purcellville for the fourth and final playoff spot in the North with five games left.

“It’s just one step closer,” said Express right fielder Drew Avans, who helped lead Strasburg to its first VBL championship last season. “It felt pretty good. It was nice. That’s a big one because (Tuesday) night we got stomped and we responded pretty well.”

Strasburg (26-10) and New Market (15-22) entered the bottom of the eighth inning tied at 6-6 after the Rebels struck for a run in the top of the frame before the Express exploded for six runs. Avans, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, started the rally when he jumped on a first-pitch fastball from newly entered reliever Brandon Miller and lined it up the middle for the go-ahead RBI single, a hit that came on the heels of back-to-back one-out walks by Dylan Ingram and Michael Curry (2-for-2, two doubles, three runs).

“They were just challenging me with fastballs,” Avans said. “They weren’t really doing anything different throughout the entire game so I was just sitting dead-red heater.”

The Express scored another run on Tyler Halas’ grounder that resulted in a New Market error as shortstop Luke Manzo attempted to turn two but skipped a throw past first baseman John Cable. Haiden Lamb looped an RBI single into right for a 9-6 Express lead, and Erick Delgado blew the game open with a two-run single. Another Rebel error on Carter Pharis’ infield single allowed Delgado to score for a 12-6 advantage.

“That’s just kind of combination of things,” New Market manager Zac Cole said. “We didn’t make real good pitches, they made some good swings and when you put those two things together you’re gonna be in trouble.”

Strasburg’s outburst capped what had been a back-and-forth affair for much of the night. New Market staked an early lead when No. 9 hitter Bowen McGuffin hit a two-out solo homer off Express starter Peyton Plumlee in the top of the second inning.

The Express, who were out-hit 12-11 in the win, answered with four runs in the bottom of the inning on a pair of two-run home runs by Ingram and Halas.

“We haven’t hit the ball extremely well here in the last three or four days I guess and I think just the whole season and everything has kind of fatigued us,” Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said.

“Timely hitting, you either have it or you don’t. There’s nothing you can do about it. … A lot of guys had really good approaches at the plate. You’ve gotta pat them on the back.”

The Rebels countered with two runs in the third on an RBI double by Cable (3-for-5) and a sacrifice fly by Nick Debo, then tied the game at 4-4 in the fourth inning on an RBI single by Chase DeMars, who was 4-for-4 with four singles.

New Market scored for the fourth straight inning with Dan Kerwin’s solo home run in the fifth that gave the Rebels a 5-4 lead.

Avans doubled home a run for the Express in the sixth inning to tie the game, and Lamb singled home a run in the seventh for a 6-5 lead after Tommy Richter led off the inning with a triple when his fly ball got lost in the twilight sky.

Brady Lloyd’s RBI single up the middle in the top of the eighth tied the game at 6-6 before Strasburg’s decisive outburst.

“We had two games with these guys here at the end and we felt like both of them we played well minus that one inning tonight,” Cole said. “You’d like to have beat these guys one of those times here at the end, especially because if we were to get in that four spot we’re gonna have to play them there in the first round of the playoffs. So a little disappointing in that sense but we’ve got a couple games left and we’ll see if can get back on track.”

Abraham Almonte picked up the win for Strasburg, as he pitched 1.1 innings of shutout relief while allowing a hit and a walk against three strikeouts.

Express starting pitcher Peyton Plumlee (5-0), who entered the game with a 1.72 ERA, labored through 4.1 innings while allowing four earned runs on seven hits, two walks, two hit batters and three strikeouts.

Reliever Matt Sharp took the loss for New Market after being charged with two runs (one earned) in the eighth inning. Starting pitcher Dustin Lander lasted four innings while allowing four earned runs on three hits, three walks, a hit batter and four strikeouts.

The Rebels are off Thursday, while Strasburg will travel to Waynesboro for a game between division leaders.

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