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Woodstock Notebook: Bandits manager Keaton seeing progress as losses continue to mount

STRASBURG – The losses continue to pile up for Woodstock in the Valley Baseball League, and county rival Strasburg was the latest team to hand the River Bandits a defeat on the diamond.

Woodstock fell in painful fashion to the Express on the road on Tuesday night, losing a lead on three different occasions before ultimately falling, 9-7, to drop its overall record to 3-19 this summer.

The Bandits’ most recent loss accurately summarized their season to date, but manager Greg Keaton was nonetheless upbeat about the way his team performed at Strasburg, saying that the team has made “a lot more improvement” since the start of the summer.

“They fought. They fought hard, and I have nothing bad to say about the effort,” he said. “Yeah we had mistakes but mistakes are gonna happen, that’s part of baseball. And the biggest thing too is nobody comes here to be bad, nobody comes here to make mistakes. These guys are actually playing better and putting pressure on people and making people beat them instead of just beating themselves, so I’m happy. I mean I’m not happy with the loss, I’ll never be happy with a loss, but I’m happy with their effort.”

Woodstock could’ve – and probably should’ve – topped the Express on Tuesday night for what would’ve been the Bandits’ first winning streak of the season.

The River Bandits jumped out to an early lead on Alex Goebel’s two-run home run in the top of the first inning and held a 3-1 lead before Strasburg tied the game with a pair of runs off Woodstock starting pitcher Jacob Bradley in the fourth.

Woodstock regained a 4-3 lead when Ramon Garza drew a bases-loaded walk in the top of the seventh, only to watch the Express rally again in the bottom half during a rough two-out sequence that saw Bandits reliever Kevin LaRosa load the bases on two walks and a hit batter before an error allowed two runs to score.

The Bandits took the lead for a third time in the eighth, 7-5, when Clayton Jeffries’ two-out, two-run double followed Brock Johnson’s game-tying single, but Woodstock again gave the advantage right back by allowing four runs in the bottom of the frame.

“We’ve gotta step up on the bump, stop it where it starts,” Keaton said. “That’s about as good an effort as we can ever expect. Those guys went out there and battled and everything else. They’re a good team. I mean they hit the ball well. But we need to cut down on a mistake here and there. We had a couple mistakes that cost us some runs, but they didn’t quit.”

STAYING HOT: Bandits outfielder/pitcher Clayton Jeffries continued his role as one of Woodstock’s most effective offensive weapons against Strasburg, as he went 2-for-5 with a double and two RBIs in the loss.

Jeffries, who started seeing an everyday role on the diamond last week, has hit safely in eight of the last nine games and is batting .455 (15-for-33) with 11 RBIs in that span. The junior from Lenoir-Rhyne University has a trio of three-RBI games in that same stretch and is batting .408 in 14 games this summer.

“I knew Clayton was a hitter when I brought him here because I coached him for two years at Lenoir-Rhyne,” Keaton said. “And I knew what kind of hitter he was, he’s a guy that battles every at-bat. That’s what I wanted and he’s done exactly what I wanted. He’s a talented hitter. He just won’t cave in. You have to get him out.”

Fellow outfielder Connor Wilson continues to shake off his slow start to the summer season as well, as he picked up two doubles against the Express to extend his hitting streak to six games and raise his average to .292. Wilson is batting .360 since starting the season 1-for-15.

LOOKING AHEAD: Woodstock was off on the Fourth of July with most of the VBL and returns to action with a home game against New Market this evening. The River Bandits near the all-star game sitting 12 games back in the North and seven games out of the fourth playoff spot in the division.

“Play the best baseball we can play,” Keaton said of the goal over the season’s final month. “It’s gonna be tough because we’re so far down but we look at it like this – every victory’s like game seven, maybe, of the World Series. And that’s cool because that means they’ll keep fighting for that. As long as there’s breath in our lungs and we have the ability to fight, we’re gonna fight ’til the end.”

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