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Posted July 8, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Home runs lift Cards to victory

By Greg Brill -- sports@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Greg Van Sickler will take this kind of run support any day of the week.

Claiming he didn't have his "best stuff," Van Sickler still pitched seven solid innings Tuesday night against Staunton in a game in which he did not to be at his best.

That's because Front Royal continued to grab attention throughout the Valley Baseball League with a 12-4 pounding of the Braves, who entered with the league's best record.

"We knew they were the best team in the league before it started and we knew we had to play well to beat them," said Front Royal outfielder Jared Simon, who set the tone early with a homer to extend his league-best hit-streak to 17 games. "We came out and swung the bats well, and when you come out and put up 12 runs, you've got a really good chance of winning."

The 12 runs scored by Front Royal, who have won five straight, were a season-best. The Cardinals finished with three homers, the eighth-straight game they have went over the wall.

"The explosion of the bats, I mean, it helps me as a pitcher," Van Sickler said. "It's a heck of a lot easier when I see balls flying 400 feet over the fence. Granted I had to watch one [I allowed] today."

Though Staunton (15-7) came in with the heavy-hitting reputation -- leading the VBL in batting (.297) and runs scored (160) -- Front Royal (14-11) brought out the big bats early to put the game on ice.

Simon launched a Matt McCraken pitch over the left-center field wall with two outs in the first inning for a solo homer, his seventh.

"I'm seeing the ball well right now and good things are happening," Simon said. "I just try and get the barrel on the ball, and it will go."

An inning later, Cody Kauffman drilled a two-out hit down the third-base line and slid around the tag at second. Kevin Brashears rope to almost the same spot two batters later scored Kauffman for a 2-0 lead, and the Cardinals blew things open in the third.

After McCraken (2-2) got knocked out after facing only three batters in the third, James Roche greeted Josh McQuade rudely with a first-pitch launch over the center-field wall for a three-run homer.

The Cardinals' first eight batters of the third each reached base safely and six runs on seven hits quickly sent the lead to 8-1.

"We were able to create some distance in the early part of the game, then our pitchers don't have to be so fine," Front Royal manager Joe Scarano said. "It really did help."

The Cardinals kept it up in the late innings. Simon got his third hit, a leadoff double in the sixth, and came around when Steve McQuail ripped one of his longer bombs of the season, to left, for his league-best 11th homer.

"Simon and McQuail -- they're big hitters and you can't make mistakes to them," Staunton manager Lance Mauck said. "For some reason, Staunton does not play well in Front Royal. But they're playing well and you've got to tip your hat to them. They're scoring runs at the right time."

Doug Oney got the team's first triple of the season in the eighth, a two-run hit that plated runs 11 and 12.

"For the most part these guys are just doing what it takes to win baseball games," Scarano said. "Seven innings from the starter, balanced [hitting] attack, defense is good. You're going to win games when you play like that."

In between, Van Sickler (3-1) made sure to keep the Braves reasonably at bay. Despite taking a shot off his pitching hand on Zac Caito's sharp grounder in the third, Van Sickler was able to stay in and pitch seven complete innings, making few bad pitches. Blake McDade drove his third homer of the season well over the right-field wall for two runs in the fourth, but Van Sickler retired 11 of the last 13 he faced after the blast.

Not that the Shenandoah University right-hander would call it one of his better outings.

"I didn't have it at all," Van Sickler said. "I couldn't hit the inside corner to save my life. They swung at some good pitches and the defense behind me, the play[s] that [shortstop Brandon] Brewer made, that was [good]. It was an all around team win today."

Said Scarano: "He's the right guy to be pitching with the lead because he is not going to walk anybody. He's an all-star for a reason and he's been off the charts."

The Cardinals extended their home win streak to seven and now hold a one-game lead over both Fauquier and Haymarket in the North Division.

Front Royal pounded out 16 hits, one shy of its season-best. Simon was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, Dan Evatt 2-for-3, McQuail 2-for-4 with three runs scored and three RBIs, Kauffman 2-for-5 with two runs scored, and Brewer went 2-for-4.

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