FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal may have been eliminated from the Valley Baseball League playoffs, but it didn’t show in the team’s final games of the season.
The Cardinals finished the season strong, including a 5-2 victory over Purcellville on Thursday afternoon. Purcellville was battling for one of the last playoff spots in the North Division and the loss to the Cardinals was a big blow to their season.
Front Royal head coach Tony Hurla said that he had a few players leave in the last week for various reasons but he was happy with how his team kept battling at the end of the season.
“We’ve been short-handed, but I tell you what, I couldn’t be more proud of these guys,” Hurla said after Thursday’s win over Purcellville. “The people that are here – they show up and play hard every night, every single night. (Wednesday) night we took Strasburg to the brink. I mean we had them, but we just came up short. They came out (Thursday) and played hard again, and we got a win. (Purcellville) is still in the playoff hunt and we kind of played spoiler (Thursday). I’m sure the guys are happy about that. It’s also our first time beating them this year.”
The Cardinals finished their season Thursday night with a 13-1 loss to Woodstock. Front Royal finished its season with a 14-28 record but went 8-8 in its final 16 games.
The Cardinals finished with a .252 team batting average and a 6.03 team Earned Run Average.
Hurla said the team chemistry was good even at the end of the season and the players kept trying to improve.
“The guys that are still here, they’re still motivated to try to get better,” Hurla said. “We had a couple of guys that really came on strong here at the end of the year, improving. They just kept up the work and it’s starting to pay off.”
RIGHT AT HOME: Matt Hartzell, a 2018 Skyline graduate, spent most of the season as a bullpen catcher for the Cardinals. At the end of the season with the team short-handed at catcher, Hartzell was activated to the Cardinals’ roster.
Hartzell played in four games and hit .143 (2-for-14) with one run scored and one RBI.
“We got short-handed so I decided, hey let's activate him, give him a little game time, make him a little better going back,” Hurla said. “And we needed it. He’s helped us. He’s got a couple of hits. He got an RBI (Thursday). So he’s done little things that have really been productive for the team.”
The 6-foot-1 Hartzell is a rising junior at Thiel College, located in Greenville, Pennsylvania. Last season Hartzell played in 20 games for the Tomcats and batted .204 (10-for-49) with three RBIs.
Hurla said it’s always a good thing when a team can have some local players on the squad.
“It kind of helps connect with the town and things like that,” Hurla said.
READY FOR MORE: It was Hurla’s first year coaching in the VBL and he said that he was "100 percent" coming back next year. He said the season was a good learning experience for him.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” Hurla said of coaching in the VBL. “I think it’s a good league, good competition each night. It’s tough to win but it’s fun. It’s good to be challenged. It’s been a pleasure working with the guys and seeing how they’ve improved throughout the year. And I feel comfortable saying I feel like everybody on our team is going back a better player.”
Hurla said one of the big things he learned this season was how important it was to have plenty of pitchers on the roster.
“The biggest thing next year is we’re going to try to have more pitching coming into it,” Hurla said. “We lost guys to injury, to pitch count limits, to fatigue, just different things. We had a couple guys back out at the last minute at the beginning of the year. So we started short and it got even shorter. So I think the biggest thing for us next year is just to be a little bit deeper on the pitching staff. But having a year under my belt, seeing how things work, how things go – you know I’m looking forward to next year.”
Hurla, who is starting up a new baseball program at Kansas Christian College in Overland Park, Kansas, said the thing he is most proud of this season was the way his team battled to the end of the season and never gave up.
“When things didn’t look good there, I think we were 6-20 or something like that, and the team not giving up and continuing to fight and just put up a good effort,” Hurla said. “I think that will be the lasting memory for me with these guys and this season.”