FRONT ROYAL – Front Royal hosted Staunton in a rare afternoon Valley Baseball League contest on Monday, and the Cardinals’ bats were nearly as hot as the temperature that approached triple digits at Bing Crosby Stadium.

Front Royal, returning from an off day on Sunday, battered the visiting Braves for 22 hits in a 17-4 victory, seven of which went for extra bases in the cross-division contest. The Cardinals entered the game with a two-game lead over New Market in the VBL North.

The Cardinals tallied at least one hit in each of their eight at-bats against Staunton, scored at least one run in six of those eight innings and chased Braves starting pitcher Bailey Hall from the game after just 4 1/3 innings. Hall is a right-hander from Eastern Mennonite University, where Front Royal assistant coach Ryan Tierney also coaches.

“I think everyone just kind of decided to try to stay up the middle today,” said Front Royal center fielder Brady Ballstadt, who went 4-for-6 with two runs scored and was one of seven Cardinals with multiple hits. “The starting pitcher actually pitched for our coach’s team, so he kind of told us to sit back and drive it over the middle, because what he does well is try to get people to roll over the ball. So we just tried to sit back and drive it up the middle.”

Staunton (12-11) – which entered the contest having won six of seven games and traveled to Strasburg for a second game on Monday following the loss – actually took the game’s first lead, when the Braves struck for a run against Cardinals starting pitcher Austin DesRoche in the top of the second.

Catcher Kyle Willman, appearing in just his second game for the Cardinals (13-6), countered with a solo home run in the bottom of the inning and Front Royal would never trail again. The Cardinals added two more runs in the third inning, another in the fourth, five in the sixth, two in the seventh and six in the eighth during a nine-hit barrage that capped the win against Staunton reliever Lucas Coan.

Designated hitter Christian Avant (4-for-5, double, triple, three runs) and first baseman Kendall Small (3-for-6) each had five RBIs to lead Front Royal’s offense. Brandon Krennrich (two doubles), Mason Gavre, Sam Little and Alex Cimaroli each had two hits and at least one RBI for the Cardinals.

Front Royal manager Zeke Mitchem missed most of the contest while attending the VBL’s all-star voting meeting but was treated to quite the offensive display when he arrived at the Bing in the later innings.

“You wanna win every game coming off an off day. Your guys should be rested. I was here earlier this morning with Ryan (Tierney) and we discussed the game plan for the day and it looks like they executed it pretty well,” Mitchem said.

“I didn’t see much of the game, but 17 runs, you can’t argue against that. And to hold a pretty good South team to four runs – I wouldn’t say you’re ever happy. You’re always trying to improve, but again, it’s good to win around the holiday. … Hopefully we can keep this thing rolling.”

Front Royal’s explosion at the plate backed a strong pitching effort from DesRoche, who was making his first start in seven appearances for the Cardinals this summer.

DesRoche, a right-hander from St. Louis Community College-Forest Park, tossed five innings and allowed two earned runs on four hits, two hit batters and a pair of strikeouts. He was pulled after completing the fifth inning while at 69 pitches, and DesRoche said afterward that he felt he had another inning in him but was pulled to keep him available later this week.

Monday’s outing was his longest of the summer, topping the 4 1/3 innings he threw in a winning effort against New Market on June 18.

“Just attacking the strike zone, really. Just trying to get the hitters to swing, try to keep the ball in play. Not trying to overpower anything, trying to go as long as I could and go from there,” said DesRoche, who is 3-0 this season.

“My slider was probably my best pitch besides my fastball. Threw a couple changeups, it wasn’t really working today but I at least I was able to have that pitch in my back pocket, so I was able to use that.”

Staunton pulled within 3-2 by grinding out a run on three hits off DesRoche in the fourth inning before Front Royal started pulling away with a five-run sixth inning that included Avant’s three-run double and pushed the Cardinals’ lead to 9-2.

In the eighth, the Cardinals strung together four consecutive hits twice in the frame against Coan, and Avant, Small, Krennrich, Gavre and Cimaroli each had RBIs in the inning.

Gabriel Ponce, Matt Blair and Rob Griswold each threw a scoreless inning of relief for Front Royal. Michael Biasiello allowed two earned runs in the seventh inning after dealing back-to-back walks to start the frame.

The Cardinals return to action at Winchester on Tuesday.

“Getting to the midway point, I mean some people might be getting tired and stuff,” Ballstadt said, “so it’s nice to come out here with some energy after a day off and just kind of show everybody what we can do.”