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Posted July 13, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Starry night: Strong pitching propels South over North

Front Royal's Stephen McQuail connects with the ball to send it out of the park to win the home run derby on Sunday at the Valley Baseball League All Star Game in Woodstock. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Front Royal's Stephen McQuail celebrates in winning the Home Run Derby Contest at the Valley Baseball League All Star Game held in Woodstock on Sunday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Staunton's Todd Brazeal acknowledges the applause from the crowd in being the first player to hit a home run during the Home Run Derby Contest at the Valley Baseball League All Star Game held in Woodstock on Sunday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

Woodstock's Matthew Blow swings away during the Home Run Derby Contest at the Valley Baseball League All Star Game held in Woodstock on Sunday. Andrew Thayer/Daily

By Jeremy Stafford -- jstafford@nvdaily.com

WOODSTOCK -- The first few innings went like clockwork at Central High School.

First, Woodstock pitcher Ian Marshall retired the side for the North, then New Market's Eric Alessio returned the favor pitching for the South.

Then, as it was the 2009 Valley Baseball League All-Star game and every one of the 56 players comprising the North and South teams were to see playing time, there was already a pitching change in the second inning.

Haymarket's Matt Benedict faced five batters before he retired the South, and Alessio, staying in the game, again retired the side.

And so it went for five innings.

It wasn't until the top of the sixth, when a cold New Market Rebel, Richard Gonzalez, was pulled off the bench to pinch-hit for Sherman Johnson. And when the barrel of his bat collided with the ball, Gonzalez admits, the hit was weak, and it grounded to third baseman Steve McQuail.

But McQuail's throw to first fluttered toward the North's dugout, and Gonzalez was called safe on the error. Gonzalez soon scored the only run of the game on a center-field double by Harrisonburg's Bobby Brow, giving the South a 1-0 win over the North.

Gonzalez said although the game is largely about having fun and being able to play baseball without the crushing pressure of winning, he was eased of what pressure there was when he finally scored against such great pitching.

"Everybody is having fun here, you know," Gonzalez said. "Everybody wants to win, but they want to have fun and enjoy the game. I don't think there were too many nerves there, you want to put on a good show for the fans and play a great game.

"But it was a relief to score that run, the only run in the game."

But Gonzalez wasn't the only Rebel to play a significant role in the South's win. New Market pitcher Brian Burgess pitched his way through the North's 5-6-7 hitters to retire the side and earn the save.

For Burgess, and many of the other pitchers, it was rough being thrown into the game for such a short period, and having no time to get a feel for it.

"It's just hard in an All-Star game, a pitcher going in one inning," Burgess said. "We're used to going in maybe four, five innings apiece.

"We just had to come out here in one inning and show off what we had in a certain amount of pitches."

New Market outfielder Kenny Mickens was the only Rebel to play the entire game, and he did so with a relatively tired leg.

Prior to the All-Star game, Mickens ran in the 60-yard dash, twice. His unofficial time was 6.7 seconds, just short of Fauquier's Justin Wilson's time of 6.5 seconds.

"I felt great the first [run], I just thought I could beat it," Mickens said. "Because normally the second time your legs are loose, your legs are warm, normally you get a little faster.

"But I slipped out of the box and that didn't help too much."

And while Mickens said that running in the thick Woodstock grass was surely a rigor for him, it failed in comparison to those hitting in the home run derby, who faced not only a fence 376 yards away from home plate, but also a strong gale blowing in from the Central High School bleachers.

Only three balls managed to forge their way through the wind and land out of the park: one from Todd Brazeal and two from McQuail, who won the derby.

"I had a great feeling in my hands," McQuail said. "I felt like if I just let the bat fly, then it will do the work."

Then McQuail laughed at the situation -- that only two home runs had won the Valley League home run derby: "I got two out, which was enough. How about that?"

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