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Posted August 5, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Taking 'Stock: Royals oust Bandits from VBL playoffs
By Ben Brooks -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- With the way the Winchester Royals have hit this season, they could be a threat no matter who they face in the Valley Baseball League playoffs.
And if they keep getting starting pitching like they have the past two nights, the Royals could make life downright miserable for opponents.
Brandon Sinnery scattered four hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings, and the Royals survived a bizarre Woodstock ninth to edge the River Bandits, 2-1, on Tuesday night at Bridgeforth Field and win the best-of-three first-round playoff series 2-0.
For Sinnery, who ranked third on the Royals' staff in innings pitched, it was his first victory of the summer and followed up team ace Stephen Rivera's Game 1 gem.
"It's going to be a long playoffs," the lanky University of Michigan freshman right-hander said. "The more innings our starters can eat up, the better success we'll have.
"Everything came together tonight. I knew if we kept swinging the bats the way we have been, we'd get the runs we needed."
Jordan Steranka's two-out, two-run double to right-center against Heith Hatfield (eight innings, seven hits) in the sixth took care of the run support. From there, the Royals sweated it out.
Woodstock put two runners on in the seventh and eighth against Sinnery and reliever Winchester Jorge Marban, but failed to score. In the ninth, however, things got even more interesting.
Shawn Ablett and Stephen Hunt led off with singles and both moved into scoring position on Michael Garza's sacrifice bunt.
Winchester's third reliever of the night, Bryam Garcia, unleashed a wild pitch that easily scored Ablett to cut Woodstock's deficit to 2-1. When the throw back from Royals catcher Aaron Dudley got past Garcia and rolled into the infield, Hunt headed home with the potential tying run.
Royals shortstop Brad Zapenas, backing up the play, scooped up the ball and fired to Garcia, who tagged out Hunt for the second out of the inning. Garcia then struck out pinch-hitter Cory Tilton to end the game.
"We caught a break," said Winchester manager Lowery Jr., who now has the Royals into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in his three seasons. "But a lot of times this summer we weren't catching those breaks. Tonight, we did. I'm excited about playing in that second round."
Who knows what's in store for Round 2? Both top-seeded Front Royal and second-seeded Staunton lost their first-round series. With the league re-seeding teams, the fifth-seeded Royals (25-21) could be the highest seed remaining, depending on the outcome of the Luray-New Market series (tied 1-1).
The River Bandits (24-22), meanwhile, are left to wonder what might have happened had they had scratched across that tying run.
"He made a great read on the play," River Bandits manager Donn Foltz said of Hunt. "If he slid, he'd have been safe. You hate for it to come down to that play. He's had a great summer. He's gotten some big hits for us."
"I wish I was more mentally there on that play," said Hunt, who went 2-for-4 on the night. "I saw the ball go past the pitcher and didn't see the shortstop backing it up. It was a mistake not sliding and probably a mistake trying to score."
The Royals are off tonight while they wait on the conclusion of the New Market-Luray series. A victory by the Wranglers would mean Winchester would host Haymarket in a best-of-three series starting on Thursday. A New Market win would make the Royals the highest remaining seed, and Winchester would host Covington.
Lowery remains confident that his pitching staff, which has struggled with consistency this summer and been depleted with injuries and early departures, can still get the job done.
"We're probably as well off as anybody else," Lowery said. "All nine of our guys are capable and have had some success this summer."
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