James, Scott propel Express into VBL Finals

Strasburg Express' Brandon Quaranta leads the team's procession off the field after beating the Front Royal Cardinals Wednesday night 12-4 during the Valley League baseball semifinals. The Express will now face the Waynesboro Generals in the finals. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – Strasburg used a strong pitching effort from Keegan James and a solid offense on Wednesday to take advance to its third Valley Baseball League Championship series in four years.

The Express scored four runs in three separate innings en route to a 12-4 victory over Front Royal in Game 3 of the North Division Finals.

“It’s huge. We won it last year and I know how much it means to this town and the people we’re staying with and all that kind of stuff,” James said. “It’s huge. It doesn’t matter if you’re in summer ball, or you’re in school ball, or back in high school ball, going to a championship to win a ring is always fun. You can’t take anything away from that.”

James certainly did his part to get the Express into the championship series. He went seven innings, allowing six hits and striking out seven.

He said that he wasn’t feeling his best on Tuesday and wasn’t sure if he would be able to pitch, but once he went through his warm-ups before the game he felt great.

Strasburg's Dylan Ingram and Carter Pharis embrace after the final out Wednesday night at First Bank Park. Rich Cooley/Daily

“That was probably the best I’ve felt in a while,” James said. “… About the fifth inning I said (to the coaches), ‘Let me go, let me ride.’ It was just a good day. Everything was working.”

The Express took the lead in the bottom of the second. Strasburg’s Brandon Quaranta led off with a double to right field off Front Royal starting pitcher Frank Rubio. With one out, Michael Curry reached on an infield single. Jacob Tisevich followed with an RBI double for a 1-0 lead.

Strasburg’s Jeff Scott then hit a three-run homer to give the Express a 4-0 edge.

“We knew that this kid was going to throw inside a lot, and kind of preparing for just a fastball inside,” Scott said. “I was sitting fastball, but I saw that slider coming and come right back over the plate, and I just swung and it felt great off the bat.”

Front Royal’s Martin Napleton cut into the lead in the top of the first with a solo home run.

The Express extended the lead with four more runs in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Haiden Lamb and Erick Delgado each singled off Rubio. Carter Pharis hit a two-run double to stretch the lead to 6-1.

Quaranta followed with a two-run homer to give Strasburg an 8-1 edge.

The Cardinals scored a run in the top of the sixth. Front Royal’s Michael Hartnagel doubles to right filed with one out. Bernabe Camarago reached on a bloop single. A sacrifice fly RBI by Tyler Kaiser cut the lead to 8-2.

Napleton singled with two outs in the top of the seventh. Josh Magee hit a ball into right field, which was misplayed and resulted in a two-run inside-the-park homer to cut the lead to 8-4.

The Express responded with another four runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game out of reach. Scott had an RBI triple and Delgado added an RBI double in the inning. All nine Strasburg hitters reached base.

That was more than enough runs for James. Strasburg manager Butch Barnes said he was very happy with James’ performance on the mound.

“That might have been his best outing,” Barnes said. “He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, got ahead in the count. He worked his off-speed stuff along with his fastball.”

Despite the loss, Front Royal manager Victor Gomez said he was very happy with the season his team had.

“It was a good summer,” Gomez said. “The guys fought really hard out here. They’re a great group of guys. I enjoyed coaching them. It was a privilege to be able to coach them all summer.”

Napleton led the Cardinals with two hits.

The Express will host Waynesboro today in Game 1 of the VBL Championship Series. The series is a best-of-3 series, and the Express won two of three against the Generals in the regular season.

Scott was on last year’s team, which won the VBL title, and he said it means a lot to make it back to the finals this year.

“Honestly, I enjoyed myself a lot last year,” Scott said. “When we played Staunton in Game 3, that was probably the most fun I’ve had in while in playing baseball. The finals for us, I know the guys are going to have a lot of fun, and we’ll play just like we did tonight – loose and hope for the best.”

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