Express win second straight VBL championship

WAYNESBORO – The Strasburg Express are once again the Valley Baseball League champions.

Seeking its second title in as many seasons in Friday’s Game 2 of the VBL championship series against Waynesboro, Strasburg rallied from a four-run deficit with five in the top of the seventh inning, starting pitcher Benjamin Dum overcame the Generals’ own big inning in the fourth to gut out 7 2/3 innings and the Express topped Waynesboro 5-4 to win the Jim Lineweaver Cup in a two-game sweep of the best-of-3 series.

“It’s incredible,” Dum said. “We heard about it from everyone in the town about how it was last year and it was our goal all season. We wanted to get back here. But to be here and to accomplish it the way we did, fighting through adversity, it was amazing.”

It looked as though the series would be returning to Strasburg for a decisive Game 3 before the Express got a spark in the seventh inning. Held scoreless through the first six frames by Generals starter Tyler Howe and trailing 4-0, Strasburg’s break came in unusual fashion when Dylan Ingram reached safely on a dropped third strike to start the seventh.

“Playoff baseball, anything can happen, so you’ve just gotta get guys on first,” Express designated hitter Tyler Green said. “Another thing we were saying is get the leadoff guy on, so we got the leadoff guy on there and the rest happened.”

Catcher Michael Curry lined the next pitch into right for a single that put runners on the corners, and Jacob Tisevich put Strasburg on the board with a groundball single into left. Jeff Scott reached on an infield single to load the bases, and Green (Vanderbilt) notched the Express’ fourth straight hit when he lined a two-run double into the gap in left-center to cut Waynesboro’s lead to 4-3.

The Express had eight starters combine for their nine hits in the win, five of which came in the seventh.

“Coach was just saying staying with it all game,” Green said. “We knew we had a good offense. We knew if we kept going with it we’d put some runs across. Basically just staying with it the whole game.”

After Generals reliever Tanner Kirby got leadoff man Haiden Lamb to line out to second, Erick Delgado (North Georgia) hit a soft line drive into right-center that fell for a two-run double and a 5-4 Strasburg lead.

“I try to hit the ball hard and today I hit two line drives right at the (defense), so I thought it was time for it to fall down, and it did,” Delgado said. “First pitch I was actually looking to drive the pitch to left-center and it didn’t work out because he threw me away. He threw me the same pitch and I hit it to right field.”

Dum delivered the all-important shutdown inning in the bottom of the seventh with a 1-2-3 frame and didn’t exit until reliever Abraham Almonte came on with two outs in the eighth and a runner at first base. Dum, a sophomore right-hander from Virginia Commonwealth University, threw 99 pitches in the win.

“My mindset was to go out there, compete as hard as I could, throw the ball through a wall and give my team a chance to win,” said Dum, who allowed four runs (three earned) on six hits, a walk and a strikeout in 7 2/3 innings. “Started off a little bit slow there, got us in a hole, but I knew our offense was gonna come through at some point and they did big in that inning.”

Despite tagging Dum for four runs, Waynesboro didn’t consistently square up on pitches at the plate. Generals slugger Zach Sterry started the three-run fourth inning with a soft single to center with one out before Kyle Jackson lined an RBI double into left-center.

Andrew Bullock followed with his own run-scoring double on a fly ball down the left-field line that was nearly caught on a dive by Brandon Quaranta. A looping single by T.J. Condon (3-for-4, two RBIs) plated another run and put the Generals up 3-0 before Dum escaped the inning.

A Strasburg error to lead off the bottom of the sixth led to Condon’s two-out RBI double and a 4-0 Waynesboro lead.

“My stuff felt great the entire night, just coughed up a few that inning,” Dum said. “But I knew I had to go back out there, throw up some more zeroes and give the team a chance to win.”

Almonte, a senior left-hander from Philadelphia University, induced a groundout from Bullock to end the eighth and, after a leadoff single by Condon and a sacrifice bunt to lead off the bottom of the ninth, struck out pinch hitter Kirk Sidwell and Brent Sakurai to strand the tying run at second and pick up the save.

Almonte struck out 40 batters in 19.1 innings pitched for Strasburg this summer.

“I wasn’t worried when they got that runner on second,” Express manager Butch Barnes said, “because I knew the next two guys weren’t gonna catch up to his fastball.”

Friday’s win capped a stellar season for the Express, who tied Waynesboro for the best record in the VBL regular season (30-12), including a 22-3 mark at home, and set a franchise record for wins in a season.

“That might be the best (collection) of guys that I have ever coached as far as being teammates, as far as just being unselfish, wanting the next guy to do better,” Barnes said. “That’s not made up, that’s just the way they were. You couldn’t have, honestly, researched everything and put a team together like that. That’s just amazing.”

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