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Posted August 5, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Top-seed Front Royal eliminated by Covington

By Greg Brill -- sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- In the back of his mind, Covington outfielder Lammar Guy still believed the Lumberjacks had one more rally left.

With six outs left in its season, Covington got rolling. That it came against the same lights-out closer Front Royal has counted on all season on its way to the top of the Valley Baseball League standings made wrapping up this first-round playoff series even more special for the eighth-seeded Lumberjacks.

"One thing about this team is they are never deflated," Covington manager James Conrad said. "They were just as fired up after that five-spot Front Royal put up [in the sixth inning] as they were in the first inning. That plays a huge role in the makeup of your team. So give them a lot of credit for staying in the game and coming back."

Guy had a three-run double to drive in the go-ahead runs and Covington turned the game into a rout by scoring eight runs over its last two innings to beat the Cardinals 11-5 Tuesday night and win the best two-of-three series 2-1.

"We put our heads down for an inning and a half, but we needed a spark to make things happen," said Guy, who drove in five runs in the win. "I was seeing the ball. The first time we played here [in a 2-1 win on Sunday] I struck out looking every time and I just wasn't looking at the ball well. Tonight it was my night and I was putting it in the right spots."

For Front Royal, it was the end of the road a bit sooner than it expected.

"It's upsetting, but I think you could live with it a little more with the season that we've had," said third baseman Steve McQuail, who helped the Cardinals to a single-season record 29 wins by leading the VBL in homers with 15. "We put up some runs, we've beaten some teams. You know, we came out and finished in first and we can be proud of that."

Down 5-3 to begin the eighth, the Lumberjacks got two runners aboard with one out when Front Royal brought in Ryan George, who led the VBL in saves with 10 during the regular season.

George got in trouble with one pitch -- plucking Junior Arroyo to load the bases for Guy. Already with a double and sacrifice fly, Guy ripped a shot down the third-base line that rolled all the way to the wall and scored three runs for a 6-5 lead.

"[George] threw all sliders and we knew he would throw sliders with men on base," Guy said. "I fouled the first one off down the line and I knew he was coming back with it. I stayed back on it long enough to get it over the [third-base] bag."

After a sacrifice, J.J. Muse singled to plate Guy for a two-run lead.

"He's been untouchable," McQuail said of George. "But he left some balls up in the zone that they could extend the bat on. They hit some balls hard to left field, which is surprising."

The Cardinals tried to keep things close in the ninth by using starting pitchers Matt Bowling and Shane Galloway. But the Lumberjacks had another four-run inning, which included another RBI for Guy and a two-run double by Muse.

Covington lit up the Cardinals late, collecting seven of their 13 hits in the last two innings.

Things ended all too quietly for Front Royal in the ninth, with a double-play grounder hit by McQuail and a pop fly hit by Jared Simon in foul territory snagged by three-year starting infielder Arroyo.

Covington now waits to find out its next playoff opponent. The Lumberjacks hope to at least equal last season's success, when they beat higher-seeds Fauquier and Waynesboro in back-to-back series to make the finals.

"It really shows you what can happen in a short series," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "You really have to play fundamental baseball if you want to win short series and want to win in the playoffs. And we didn't do it, defensively."

Some lackluster play in the field (four errors) and a tough start from Ross Speed (three wild pitches) saw the Cardinals fall behind 3-0 after five. The pitching of Benedy Mejia kept Front Royal frustrated as well, as the right-hander had a no-hitter through four innings and struck out nine over five.

After fanning Jesse Henry for punch-out No. 10 leading off the sixth, Mejia ran into some tough luck. Six straight batters reached safely and the Cardinals got all their runs in the inning to take a 5-3 lead.

McQuail knocked in the first run with his single before James Roche hit a sharp grounder near the second-base bag that looked like a sure double play. But the ball bounced high and by Arroyo and resulted in a two-run single from Roche to tie the game at 3-3. Jim Jacquot followed with a gapper to right-center, and Dan Evatt scored just steps ahead of Roche, who beat the play to the plate with a nifty slide.

However, on this night, it would be Covington who would have the last rally again.

On Sunday, the Lumberjacks won with an unearned run scored against George in the ninth.

After losing 11-4 at home on Monday, the Lumberjacks got back on their bus and headed north knowing they had to win at Bing Crosby Stadium again to keep the season alive.

"After we won the first one we were like 'No, we're not coming back here,'" Guy said. "It's like a three-hour drive [one way]. We were down about the road trip, but once the lights came on and we stepped between the lines, we came to play."

"There's no doubt that team is built for the playoffs, if they have the pitching," Scarano said. "Those position players are really mature."

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