New Market and Strasburg are ready for the Valley Baseball League playoffs and a match-up with each other.
The Rebels will host the Express tonight in the start of a best-of-3 series in the opening round of the North Division playoffs.
New Market has won four of five meetings this season with Strasburg but head coach Zac Cole said he knows they have a tough opponent.
“I know Strasburg has some really good players,” Cole said earlier this week. “And even though we beat them a couple of times there’s been some extra-inning games. And there’s been some games decided by one run. …We don’t feel that we’re going to take them lightly or we’re going to just show up. They’re a good team and they’re well-coached.”
The Rebels (24-17) finished second in the North Division, while the Express finished third (22-19).
The Express have won the last two VBL titles, and have been in the championship series the last three years.
Strasburg has several players back from last year’s team, and first-year head coach Nate Ramsey said having the returning players has been a real positive.
“One of the things I was excited about when I took this job was the fact that we did have four or five of those returners that know how to handle those expectations,” Ramsey said. “And they’ve become leaders later in the season as we’ve gone along here.”
The Rebels have been led by a balanced attack at the plate all season. Cole said there have been times when he’s had starters hitting over .300.
They have a VBL-best .294 batting average as a team. They are fourth in the league with 22 homers and third in steals (79).
“As a team we can do a lot of things offensively that makes it tough to keep us from scoring, just because our lineup’s so deep,” Cole said.
Jacob Rhinesmith is batting .359 (42-for-117), with three homers and 33 RBIs. Jake Washer is batting .341 (45-for-132) with a team-best five home runs and 34 RBIs. Alec Aleywine, who is also one of the team’s top pitchers, has 33 RBIs, three homers and is batting .314 (44-for-140).
New Market has also been solid on the mound throughout the season. Aleywine leads the team with four victories and has a 3.82 ERA with seven starts.
Strasburg leads the league with 31 homers. Brandon Quaranta leads the VBL with 11 home runs and 49 RBIs. Jacob Hirsh is batting .318 (34-for-107) with three homers and 14 RBIs for the Express.
Ramsey said not only is the team hitting well, but he feels better than ever about his defense.
“One of the last things I wanted to try and do was to kind of solidify our defense,” Ramsey said. “We’ve had a little bit of a revolving door there. We lost a couple of shortstops, but the guys that are a part of that mix now, I’m 100 percent confident that they’re going to go out there and make plays.”
Strasburg’s pitching has been a little up-and-down this season, but Ramsey said he feels good with the rotation now.
He said that Dylan Hall has been big for them this season. He has a 2-1 record with a 3.34 ERA in 35 innings and six starts.
“He’s been a guy that he’s been outstanding for us,” Ramsey said of Hall. “He was one of those guys that early in the summer that we didn’t know if he was going to start or relieve. And he’s been a guy we’ve given the ball to every five or six days and he’s helped settle it down.”
For the Rebels, it’s their first playoff appearance since 2013. Last year Cole said the team came up one game short of the playoffs, so it was a big goal to achieve this season.
“Coming back this year we wanted to work really hard all offseason to put the best team together we could,” Cole said. “And we wanted the fans in our town to experience playoff baseball. So we’re really happy we were able to accomplish that this year. And we’re looking forward to it.”
It’s the sixth-straight playoff appearance for the Express. Ramsey said even though the expectations are always to make the playoffs, it still means a lot to the team to accomplish it.
“It means a lot to the guys that are still here, the ones that have stuck it out,” Ramsey said. “And to our staff and our organization and to our fans — they’ve been great. It just means a lot to this community.”