Express small ball

Strasburg Express infielder Jonah Cox fields a ground ball before Tuesday night's game against the Front Royal Cardinals at First Bank Park.

STRASBURG For a team that hit 51 home runs a year ago, small ball might not be what some were expecting to see at First Bank Park.

But for the Strasburg Express, it’s been the key to winning seven of their first nine games.

The Express had two players hit 10 or more long balls last summer, but the team has only hit two home runs this season. Instead of panicking, Express head coach George Laase has focused on team at-bats.

“We haven’t hit as many home runs as we did in the past,” Laase said. “Last year, we relied on the home run. This year, it’s about getting guys on, stealing a base and getting a base knock to drive them in. We’ve had some good quality team at-bats.”

Leading the way in the Express’ small ball attack is Jonah Cox, an infielder from Oral Roberts. Cox is hitting .289 this summer but leads the Valley Baseball League with 11 stolen bases, more than double the second-most.

Corey Robinson, an outfielder from the University of Florida, has a trio of stolen bases while batting .368 with four doubles in five games.

The power at the plate hasn’t been there yet, but early in the summer, Alabama’s Walt Bailey was hitting the lights out of the ball. He went 3-for-4 on opening night and parlayed that into a four-game hitting streak to open the season. He’s yet to record a hit since then, but Laase expects him to heat back up soon.

Laase said consistency will come and when it does, the team’s offense will be firing on all cylinders.

“It’s just a matter of being consistent with the reps,” Laase said. “It’s only a matter of time before we start breaking out of our power spell.”

Though last season’s league champions are lacking power at the plate to open the season, they’re atop the East Division standings, leading by two games heading into Wednesday's game against the New Market Rebels.

Another part of their success is the returning talent, bringing back 13 players from last season’s squad.

“It speaks a lot about what they thought about their experience,” Laase said. “It gives us a foot up [on the league], maybe, where if you have to rebuild year after year, you don’t get to carry on that same kind of discipline and expectation. The standard is the standard here at Strasburg.”

The Express’ team chemistry was something that Laase wanted to focus on and with 13 players back from a year ago, it seemed to work out well on the diamond.

“The guys use the universal language of baseball to just come together,” Laase said. “They’re all on the same mission. It’s the fun part when you surround yourself with a bunch of guys on the same mission, that’s when good things happen.”

Contact Noah Fleischman at 540-574-6296 or nfleischman@dnronline.com | Follow Noah on Twitter: @fleischman_noah

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