Express continues success at home with playoff win over Cardinals

Strasburg shortstop Erick Delgado attempts a double play ball to first as Front Royal's Tyler Kaiser is forced out at second base after an infield grounder during first inning action Monday night at First Bank Park. Front Royal's Zac Wiley outran the throw to first. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – First Bank Park continued to be a very friendly venue for the Strasburg Express in the first game of the Valley Baseball League North Division championship series against Front Royal on Monday night.

Strasburg, the North’s regular season champion, raced out to an early lead against the visiting Cardinals and rolled to a 9-3 win. The victory improved Strasburg’s record to 20-3 at home this summer and puts the Express one win away from a return trip to the VBL championship series.

The Cardinals will host Strasburg in Game 2 of the best-of-3 series tonight at 7 p.m. at Bing Crosby Stadium.

“I feel like every time we’re at home with the crowd behind us, once one guy starts doing it everyone seems to just start doing it and feel good,” said Express designated hitter Brandon Quaranta. “These guys have been swinging the bat good all year… That was just a great team effort. To get the first game against these guys is huge for us.”

The Express beat around the VBL’s most effective pitching staff to the tune of 12 hits in Monday’s victory, including six for extra bases. Seven players contributed to that hit total, including two apiece from Carter Pharis (two RBIs), Dylan Ingram (two doubles) and Jeff Scott (two doubles), while Quaranta led the way with a 3-for-4 effort that included a solo home run, his ninth since joining the Express midway through the season.

Front Royal catcher Tanner Halstead tags out Strasburg's Brandon Quaranta at home plate during third inning action at First Bank Park on Monday night. Quaranta ran home after an infield grounder by Michael Curry was thrown home on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I think it’s feeling good at the plate, but I think it has a lot to do with the lineup I have around me,” said Quaranta, who is 7-for-13 (.538) with three homers and six RBIs in three playoff games. “Top to bottom, everyone’s a threat and I think the pitcher knows that, so it’s hard for them sometimes to figure out what to do. I’m just seeing it well, but I think everyone’s pretty much seeing good at the same amount.”

Strasburg built itself a quick lead with three runs in the bottom of the second inning, a surge fueled by the Express’ power and some shaky fielding from Front Royal. Quaranta started the rally by hammering the first pitch he saw from Cardinals starter Clay Hunt (four innings, five runs allowed on seven hits) over the fence in center to lead off the inning, and back-to-back one-out errors set up an RBI double by Scott and a run-scoring single by Drew Avans at the bottom of the order.

“That changed, definitely, the tempo of the game and put us in a little bit of a hole there,” Cardinals manager Victor Gomez said of Front Royal’s defense, which committed four errors in the loss. “You can’t get in a hole with this team. That’s a real good ball club over there obviously. Once they kind of got the momentum their starter (Ryan Anderson) did a good job and kept us down there.”

Anderson, a right-hander from Florida A&M, tossed 5.2 innings while allowing three earned runs on seven hits and a walk. He struck out nine in the winning effort.

“I wanted to go out there and fight hard for my team because we’re together,” Anderson said. “I know they’re gonna put up runs for me, so it’s on my end to throw zeroes for them.

Strasburg's Dylan Ingram tips his helmet to Brandon Quaranta, right, after Quaranta hit a solo home run during second inning action Monday night against Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I know I was falling behind early but all my pitches were working pretty good. I was executing so that’s what we were working on.”

The Cardinals got a run back in the third inning when Tyler Kaiser – who was 3-for-4 with a home run, a double, an RBI and two runs scored – hit a solo shot to left-center to cut Strasburg’s lead to 3-1.

Strasburg struck back for two more runs in fourth on Pharis’ RBI single that was compounded by another Front Royal error, and the Cardinals’ fourth error in the fifth allowed a run to score for a 6-1 Express lead.

Front Royal cut that deficit in half with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth, which began with consecutive hits by Kaiser, Zac Wiley and Bernabe Camargo, who singled home a run. A walk loaded the bases for the Cardinals with no outs but Joey Mundy’s sacrifice fly would be Front Royal’s last scoring play as Anderson and reliever Brandon Maine combined for back-to-back strikeouts to escape further damage.

“I was at 92 pitches and I was trying my best,” Anderson said. “I’m glad I ended on the strikeout, even though I had bases loaded and no outs.”

Front Royal's Tyler Kaiser is greeted by teammates after hitting a solo home run during third inning action Monday night against Strasburg at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg immediately halted any momentum the Cardinals may have built in the bottom of the sixth, as Erick Delgado tripled home Haiden Lamb (three runs) before Pharis’ RBI single off J.T. Root made it 8-3.

Ingram’s RBI double in the eighth made it 9-3.

Front Royal didn’t have a hit after the sixth inning as Maine pitched 2.1 while striking out three and walking one and Avans tossed a scoreless ninth.

“That’s a testament to them,” Express manager Butch Barnes said of Strasburg’s bullpen. “They haven’t thrown a lot all year but we try to keep their pitch counts down to keep everybody alive because we’re in that Pitch Smart thing now with Major League Baseball and as long as they don’t throw over 31 pitches they can come back the next day.”

The winner of the North Division championship series will take on the Waynesboro Generals, who swept Covington in two games for the South title.

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

The umpire ducks after a throw to Front Royal's third baseman Erne Valdes as he holds Strasburg's Brandon Quaranta on third base during third inning action Monday night in Strasburg. Strasburg's Carter Pharis hit a double on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Drew Avans, left, congratulates Haiden Lamb, right, after scoring off a hit by Carter Pharis during fourth inning action Monday night against Front Royal at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

Front Royal catcher Tanner Halstead, left, chats with pitcher JT Root during fifth inning action Monday night at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

Strasburg's Ryan Anderson throws a pitch during a game last season against Front Royal at First Bank Park. Anderson has returned to play for the Express this season. Rich Cooley/Daily