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Balanced Cardinals enjoying best record in VBL

New Market third baseman Chase Suddith prepares to put a tag on Front Royal's Alex Briggs as Briggs slides around him during third inning action Monday night at Bing Crosby Park. Briggs was safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal has been sitting firmly in first place in the Valley Baseball League’s North Division all season and the Cardinals have done it by being solid with both offense and pitching.

The Cardinals have the best record in the entire league at 10-3, and head coach Zeke Mitchem said one key has been the players have had good attitudes.

“I think we have a lot of hard workers,” Mitchem said after Monday night’s 7-4 win over New Market. “We have some good listeners. We’ve had some guys come and go, but all in all the group’s been fun. They want to get better. They have aspirations to be better at their colleges when they get back, so that’s good to be around.”

Offensively, the Cardinals are hitting .263 as a team and are averaging seven runs per game.

In Monday’s win over New Market, the Cardinals pounded out 15 hits and seven of the nine starters had at least one hit.

Front Royal's Andrew Burden breaks up a potential double play ball as he is forced out at second base as New Market shortstop Kobe Lopez can't release the throw during third inning action Monday night in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

“We have balance, that’s for sure,” Mitchem said. “That was my intention developing the roster. I wanted to have a balanced lineup. I wanted to have guys that could hit from both sides of the plate, could run, could bunt, could hit for power. So I feel like we have all those attributes in the lineup. If everybody’s going really well I think we’re a tough team to pitch to.”

Cardinals’ catcher Christian Avant (Georgia Southern University) leads the team with 15 RBI’s and is batting .357 (15-for-42). Outfielder Brady Ballstadt (Piedmont College) has a team-best two home runs and nine RBIs.

Rob Griswold (Long Island University) has been a big factor on the mound and at the plate for the Cardinals. Griswold leads the Cardinals in batting average, hitting .556 (5-for-9) with two RBIs and three runs scored.

On Sunday, Griswold was named the SIGNS USA VBL Player of the Week for his effort both at the plate and on the mound. Griswold is also the Cardinals’ closer and picked up his third save of the season on Monday, going 1.2 innings in relief.

For the season Griswold has a 0.00 ERA in six innings with five strikeouts, no walks and only three hits allowed. Mitchem said that pitching is Griswold’s main strength.

Front Royal's Alex Cimaroli puts a tag on New Market's Kobe Lopez on a steal during first inning action on June 19 in Front Royal. The Cardinals are in the midst of playing 20 games in 19 days to end the regular season. Rich Cooley/Daily

“There’s no doubt that Gris is a two-way guy. That’s probably a little better on the pitching side,” Mitchem said. “He’s had some good at-bats in his time that he’s gotten. And that was part of his arrangement that I had with his coach, who was a former colleague of mine. And I’m trying to to get him more at-bats this summer so he can be more prepared for college season next year. But his bread and butter is on the mound – he’s pretty good.”

Griswold is just one part of perhaps the strength of the Cardinals – the bullpen. Mitchem said he’s been happy with his bullpen all season and he’s still trying to build more depth there.

In Monday’s victory over New Market, the bullpen played a huge role. The Cardinals trailed 4-1 after the first inning and a half. Front Royal starting pitcher Christopher Krennrich (North Carolina Central University) lasted only 1.2 innings. Front Royal’s Austin DesRoche (St. Louis Community College-Forest Park) relieved Krennrich and went 4.1 innings, allowing no hits with four strikeouts and no walks. Michael Biasiello (Rowan College at Gloucester) followed with 1.1 innings, allowing just one hit and striking out two.

“The bullpen (Monday) obviously was extremely good,” Mitchem said. “…To run up 7 zeros is pretty awesome. And to have three guys go out there and do that – that’s kind of been the calling card – our top-end bullpen guys have been good.”

Even though his team is off to a strong start, Mitchem said he is not worried about the wins and losses column. He said his main goal is for players to stay healthy and improve.

“At the end of the season, like I’ve said before to everybody that I’ve talked to, is we want the guys to be healthy,” he said. “We want them to be developed. We want them to be tougher for their programs and ultimately to say that they had a great experience here in Front Royal in 2018.”

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