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Offense big strength for Express this season

Express shortstop Austin Thompson turns a double play as Staunton's Hayden Leatherwood slides into second base during fifth inning action Thursday night in Strasburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

STRASBURG – The bats are starting to come to life for the Strasburg Express and head coach Anthony Goncalves hopes more and more wins will soon follow.

The Express started the season off slowly with five losses, but have won two of their last three Valley Baseball League contests led by a strong offense.

“We’re starting to click, especially offensively,” Goncalves said after Strasburg’s 17-9 loss to Staunton on Thursday. “When you score nine runs in the Valley League you should win most games. The last three games we’ve been swinging the bats.”

The Express (2-6) are getting contributions from players up and down their lineup. Probably the biggest strength of the offense is their depth at catcher.

Goncalves said that catcher Tyler Krabbe (University of Montevallo) has the most power on the team and that Jimmy Jeffries (University of Alabama Birmingham) has a hit in every game he has started. Catcher Ryan Hogan (St. John’s University) just joined the team earlier this week and is hitting .545 (6-for-11) with two homers and six walks.

Austin Thompson, right, is greeted at home plate after a fourth inning home run Thursday night against Staunton. Thompson had two homers on the night. Rich Cooley/Daily

Express shortstop Austin Thompson (Georgia Southern University) is batting .353 (12-for-34) with a team-best three homers and 10 RBIs.

“The offense, honestly, when it’s clicking there’s really no weak spots,” Goncalves said. “There’s five guys in there that can put a bunt down or they can steal a bag easily. And you can see, especially in this ballpark, we have five or six guys in this lineup that can put the ball in those trees (over the fence).”

The Express have 10 home runs as a team in eight games this season.

Strasburg has had some quality starts from its pitching staff as well. On Thursday, Macklin Ohs (Winthrop University) went six innings, allowing just three runs (all solo home runs). Ohs struck out six and allowed just six hits.

“Actually, stuff-wise he didn’t have it (Thursday), but what you saw is he’s just a tough mental kid that just battled,” Goncalves said. “He battled. He did not have his stuff. I ran him out there one extra inning because he wanted the ball. And that’s what I like. I want my arms to be tough.”

Strasburg Express's Macklin Ohs fires a pitch during Thursday night's game against Staunton. Rich Cooley/Daily

Another of Strasburg’s top starting pitchers is 2015 Strasburg High School graduate Garrett Richards (James Madison University). The lefty has pitched eight innings and struck out eight in two starts.

Goncalves was an assistant coach on Strasburg’s VBL championship team two years ago and coached Richards, who was on that team as well.

“Garrett has gotten so much better than the last time I was here two years ago,” Goncalves said. “He’s a local boy. He’s been involved with a lot with our (team) camps. He brings the energy. He was a part of our team two years ago when we won the championship, so he knows what it takes. And he also shows some leadership qualities as well.”

Goncalves said Strasburg’s bullpen has been improving, despite an off night on Thursday when they gave up 14 runs in relief. Goncalves said that he was running low on pitching, which helped lead to the dismal night against Staunton. However, Goncalves said that his bullpen pitched scoreless innings of relief on Wednesday in an 11-6 extra-inning victory over Winchester.

Goncalves was an assistant coach two years ago under former head coach Butch Barnes. Goncalves said he wanted to come back last year but couldn’t. However, he said he was excited to get the opportunity to take the reins this season.

“This place is awesome,” he said. “You’re expected to win. The community – I love it. When they asked me to come back last year it just didn’t work out – it sucked I’m not going to lie. When they brought up the opportunity to coach this year it didn’t take long to say ‘I’m in’. This place is awesome and it’s even better when you’re winning. Once things start to click, we’ll be fine.”

The Express have been in the VBL championship series four straight years, winning two titles. Goncalves said he still believes his team will have plenty of success this season.

“We just need to play baseball the right way,” he said. “We’re getting good starts from our starters. We just need some of these bullpen arms to come in and get us outs. Then offensively we just need to keep scoring runs, do the little things – runner on second base, you either drive him in or move him over.”

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