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Posted July 22, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Royals stretch streak to 10

By Ben Brooks -- sports@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- The way Winchester is playing these days, the Fauquier Gators may soon find themselves the answer to a tricky little trivia question.

Who was the last Valley Baseball League team to beat the Royals?

Winchester avenged the July 6 loss that seems like nearly a season ago Tuesday night at Bridgeforth Field with a 9-2 victory over the Gators for its 10th straight win of the summer.

Rightfielder Ben Hammer (Toledo), batting in the No. 9 spot, continued his recent hot streak by driving in five runs with a 3-for-4 performance at the plate to lead Winchester's 13-hit attack. Even Hammer, who now has 11 RBIs over his last four games, couldn't recall the last team to beat the Royals (20-15).

"I have no idea," said Hammer, whose playing time increased when centerfielder Bobby Rauh left the team last week after signing a pro contract with the Atlanta Braves.

While Hammer may not remember Winchester's last loss, he does know that his increased playing time is doing wonders for his offensive production.

"I'm just seeing the ball well," said Hammer, who had an RBI single in the Royals' four-run third inning, an RBI triple in the fourth and a two-run single in the eighth. "I'm finally getting at-bats game after game."

That's bad news for the rest of the VBL. The last thing opponents need is for the league's top hitting and scoring team to discover another stick.

"A great pitching performance is about the only way to beat them," Fauquier manager Paul Koch said. "These guys are the measuring stick with 10 straight wins. They're one of the top one or two teams in the league."

Fauquier's Dave Billotte, making his first start of the summer and filling in for injured David Hayes, didn't help himself by unleashing four wild pitches in Winchester's four-run third.

The Royals, who still trail first-place Front Royal by two games in the North Division, took advantage of the generosity from the Gators and rode strong "relief pitching" the rest of the way.

For the fourth straight game, Winchester's starting pitcher failed to make it past three innings. This time, however, was planned.

With the Falcons (19-17) loaded with left-handed hitters, Royals manager John Lowery Jr. decided to split the pitching duties with his southpaws. Starter Corey Williams went the first three innings, followed by usual starters Brett Stackhouse and Adam Adkins. The trio combined to scatter six hits and surrender just two runs over eight innings before handing the ball over to Matt Zahel for the ninth.

"Their best hitters are lefties, so we tried to neutralize them a bit," Lowery said. "I think sometimes it's a different mentality when you know you're only going to go three innings. You attack a little more."

In addition to Hammer, the Royals got two RBIs from leadoff hitter Aaron Dudley and one apiece from Dave Fallon and Jordan Steranka.

The one bit of bad news the Royals received was that standout reliever Matt Brazis (3-1, 2.22 ERA) has been lost for the season with a strained triceps.

"It's all part of the summer," Lowery said. "Sometimes you wonder why these things happen. Bobby Rauh left and other guys stepped up. There'll be some opportunities for guys who stick with it. Traditionally, in this league it's the team that has the most guys stick around who do the best."

There will be plenty of opportunities in the coming week. Eight of Winchester's final nine regular-season games are against North division teams. Three of those, beginning tonight, come against Front Royal (22-13).

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