Napleton’s six RBIs power Cardinals past Express
FRONT ROYAL – Regardless of the outcome of Tuesday night’s Valley Baseball League playoff game against Strasburg, the Front Royal Cardinals knew their season would soon come to an end, and catcher Marty Napleton said the team is simply enjoying each other’s company as the season draws to a close. Thanks to Napleton, the Cardinals get to spend a little bit more time together.
Facing elimination in Game 2 of the North Division Finals on Tuesday night, Napleton blasted a pair of key hits that drove in six runs as Front Royal notched a 7-2 win over the defending champion Express.
The Cardinals’ win forces a decisive Game 3 at Strasburg at 7 p.m. tonight, with the winner advancing to take on South Division champ Waynesboro in the VBL championship series starting Thursday.
Front Royal, held hitless by Strasburg starter Peyton Plumlee through the first five innings, entered the bottom of the sixth trailing 2-0 before grabbing momentum.
Tyler Kaiser led off the frame with a single, the first of three in the inning that helped the Cardinals load the bases. With two outs, Napleton hammered a hanging breaking ball from reliever Brandon Maine on an 0-2 pitch and cleared the bases with a double off the netting above the wall in left-center, narrowly missing a grand slam while giving Front Royal a 3-2 lead.
“I thought I just had to pick those guys up,” said Napleton, a senior from St. Joseph’s College. “The guys were on base, they set the tone and they just needed one big hit. I was lucky enough to put the barrel on it.
“I just saw it up and all the sudden it was off the net, so it happened pretty quick.”
The Cardinals added four insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to seal the victory.
A Strasburg error, a bunt single by Clay Hunt and a sacrifice bunt put two in scoring position for the Cardinals before Emilio Abreu floated a jam-shot RBI single into shallow right-center with the infield drawn in. On the next pitch, Napleton hit a three-run homer to left-center to give Front Royal a 7-2 lead.
It was Napleton’s first home run of the playoffs and his second this summer.
“(With) guys in scoring position, I like to get that first fastball and it was right there,” said Napleton, who batted eighth on Tuesday and had two of Front Royal’s eight hits. “I’ve been a little long throughout the season and haven’t been getting to those but I was lucky enough to square that up.”
Napleton’s power display provided plenty of run support for Brandon Valentin and Mitch Stophel, a pair of relievers who combined to pitch all nine innings in the victory.
Valentin, a senior from St. Thomas University, made his first start since his sophomore year and went five innings while allowing two earned runs on six hits, three walks and six strikeouts. He threw 89 pitches.
“I was pretty excited to start the playoffs, elimination game, do or die,” said Valentin, who had a 0.76 ERA in 23.2 relief innings for the Cardinals during the regular season. “The first inning I went out there I was pretty pumped but I fell behind. Pretty tough but once I came out in the second inning I talked to myself, ‘You’ve been doing this a lot, you know,’ calmed myself down and got ahead and my defense did the work.
“The whole season I probably haven’t thrown over 50 pitches, but I told the coach after the fourth inning, I was like put me out one more, I got this.”
Strasburg, which had 10 hits in the loss, looked like it might run away with the game early. Haiden Lamb led off the game with an infield single before Erick Delgado walked, and Carter Pharis yanked a hit-and-run RBI single into left for a quick 1-0 lead.
A bases-loaded walk to Michael Curry later in the inning gave the Express a 2-0 lead, but Valentin got a strikeout and a fly out to escape further damage.
“That was huge,” said Valentin, who retired eight in a row through the third inning.
“I beared down and told myself I got this.”
Stophel tossed the final four innings for Front Royal to pick up the win. He scattered four hits while striking out seven.
Plumlee didn’t allow a hit to Front Royal through the first five frames, although he did deal four walks in that span while the Cardinals stranded five baserunners.
“That’s the type of ball club we are. We’re just gonna pick and grind offensively,” Cardinals manager Victor Gomez said. “Even though we didn’t have a hit (Plumlee) still had to work out there. That’s what we talked about a lot was making him work, walks, some errors. We were in it … we just needed someone to step up and we got that job done there.”
Plumlee lasted 5.1 innings while allowing two earned runs on two hits, five walks and eight strikeouts in the no-decision, while Maine took the loss. Brandon Quaranta and Strasburg High School graduate Garrett Richards each surrendered two runs in relief.
Jacob Tisevich went 3-for-4 with a triple to lead Strasburg at the plate, while Lamb, Pharis and Quaranta each had two hits.
The Express return home tonight, where they are 20-3 this season.
“You’ve gotta strap it up and go,” Express manager Butch Barnes said. “Whether it’s two games or three games … it’s a three-game series and you’ve gotta be able to win two of them.
“Whatever happens tomorrow, these guys have battled through everything and we’re gonna do it again tomorrow. We’ve got a fairly significant shot tomorrow. I don’t know where they are pitch-wise, I know where we are pitch-wise and we’ll just go after it.”
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org