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Posted August 3, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Lumberjacks top Cardinals

By Greg Brill -- sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Never count Covington out once it gets to the playoffs.

The Lumberjacks pulled off a stunner in their opening-round Valley Baseball League series with top-seed Front Royal, scoring two unearned runs and getting a complete game performance from Daniel DeSimone to beat the Cardinals 2-1 on Sunday night.

In the playoffs due to being the automatic qualifier as the second-place team out of the South Division, the Lumberjacks proved they were better than a sub .500 team by scoring the go-ahead run in the ninth and watching as DeSimone kept his poise and struck out two of the league's top power producers in the bottom of the inning.

A No. 6 seed in 2008, Covington, the only team in this season's playoffs that entered with a losing record, made it all the way to the championship series last season by pulling off series wins at No. 3 Fauquier and No. 2 Waynesboro before falling to No. 1 Luray.

Making another lengthy trip (165 miles, one-way) didn't seem to bother Covington much to start this season's playoffs, either.

"It's good to make that trip and to be up 1-0 [in the series] and be at home [today]," Covington first-year manager James Conrad said. "It's a good spot to be in."

The loss was a huge disappointment for the Cardinals, who won a program-best 29 games during the regular season.

"I'll give their pitcher credit tonight because he did a great job," Front Royal first-year manager Joe Scarano said. "But all the runs they scored were results of errors that we made. We didn't make the plays defensively and in a tight game, that's the difference.

"Now we've got work to do and our backs are against the wall. We've got our No. 1 [pitcher] going [tonight] and I'm confident we'll keep going in the right direction. What we need to do [in Game 2] is score some runs early to take some pressure off."

Front Royal will try to stay alive in the best-of-three series tonight by sending Greg Van Sickler to the mound at Casey Field to face Benedy Mejia.

Facing a team that ranked in the top five of the VBL in slugging and batting average, DeSimone never wavered in going the distance for the first time.

"I told my coach [Saturday] that I was going for a complete game -- first of the season -- and I dreamed about it [Saturday night]," said DeSimone, who spaced nine hits, and allowed one earned run, no walks and struck out six. "That was my goal coming out here, to keep it low. They had some big hitters and I wanted to keep them off-balance and keep them guessing. That's what you've got to do."

"He's left with the lead a lot of times and doesn't have the record to show for it," Conrad said of DeSimone, who was 2-2 in seven starts during the regular season. "He's left with the lead in 70-75 percent of the starts and he just battles and battles on the mound. He's a competitor and the type of guy you definitely want to go with."

The Cardinals had four hits in the first three innings but nothing to show for it. DeSimone had a shutout through six, but gave up a homer to Dan Evatt leading off the seventh, which gave Front Royal a 1-0 lead.

"I just stayed focused," DeSimone said. "When something like that happens, you can't lose your cool or you get in trouble."

After getting a double play to end the eighth, DeSimone struck out VBL regular-season home run leader Steve McQuail to begin the ninth. Jared Simon then ripped a single up the middle before DeSimone fanned Evatt for the second out. Scarano sent Kevin Brashears in to run and DeSimone had a lapse and was called for a balk with James Roche at the plate.

"Me and my catcher messed up on some [signals], I was going to step off, and I flinched a little instead," DeSimone said. "But you've still got to go after those guys. They demand respect and you've got to give it to them."

Still ahead in the count 0-2 to Roche, DeSimone sent out one final calling card, easily picking off Brashears, who was leaning too far off second and was froze when DeSimone wheeled around to second.

Rob Nixon got the start for Front Royal and got out of several tough spots in the first seven innings before running into trouble in the eighth.

With one out, Lammar Guy, who had gone down on a called third strike in each of his previous three at-bats, reached on a throwing error by shortstop Brandon Brewer. After moving to second with a steal, and third with a balk called on Nixon, Guy scored on Spencer Johnson's single up the middle against a drawn-in infield to tie the game.

Front Royal brought closer Ryan George in, who worked out of the inning with a pair of strikeouts.

In the ninth, the Cardinals again had a breakdown in the field.

The Lumberjacks thought they had the go-ahead run a bit earlier, with Andrew Caron coming hard around third on Drew Longley's one-out single up the middle. But Roche threw a strike to the plate and Jim Jacquot put the tag on Caron for the second out.

Richie Rodriguez batted next and sent a grounder to third baseman Jesse Henry. After making a clean pickup, Henry threw low to first, resulting in a three-base error and Longley scoring all the way from first.

"It's funny because the last time we were up in this park we lost on a throwing error in the last inning," Conrad said. "Baseball has a funny way of turning things around like that. But credit to our guys for keeping the pressure on."

Given a 2-1 lead, DeSimone locked things down for Covington.

Front Royal out-hit Covington, 9-6. Anthony Ottrando had two hits for the Cardinals and J. J. Muse had two for the Lumberjacks.

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