As soon as Jake Perry made contact with Hunter Fillingim’s offering in the bottom of the 9th inning, Jay Neal and Kyle Gutshall started screaming in the press box.
They knew it before the ball even cleared the fence: Perry had just hit a walk-off three-run home run to send the Strasburg Express to their third straight Valley League finals.
“I was just looking for a good pitch to hit,” a wide-eyed Jake said after the game, while running his hand through his short-cropped hair. “I’m just so happy for Strasburg that we’re able to keep playing.”
Up to Perry’s swing, the story was Lorenzo Hampton and Jared Drayton for the Winchester Royals. Drayton held the mighty Express offense in check for 7 complete innings, getting the Royals within 6 outs of their first finals since 2012. He gave up 6 hits, 3 walks, 2 runs, and struck out 8.
Hampton just crushed the ball all night. He led off the Royal 2nd inning with a scorching ground ball to third for a single, went to second on a wild pitch, and eventually scored from third on an Alejandro Rivero fielder’s choice. In the 3rd, Hampton sent a ball over the Miller Honda sign in left center field for a 2-run home run, putting Winchester up 3-0. He also ripped a double down the left field line in the 5th, although that did not lead to any runs. (He also hit a foul ball hard- Lorenzo lined a foul into the Strasburg crowd in the 7th, whacking a fan in the leg. In a nice gesture, Lorenzo came over and checked in on the woman in the bottom of the inning, making sure she was ok.)
Perry hit his first home run in the 3rd inning after a Brandon Quaranta walk to cut the lead to 3-2, but the Royals tacked on 2 more in the 4th on a 2-run single up the middle by Seth Woodard to make the score 5-2.
After a half-hour lightning delay, the Express cut the lead to 5-3 in the 8th on a Tyler Martin RBI single, setting up Perry’s heroics in the 9th. In the fateful half inning, Philip Madonna led off with a single to left, went to second on a groundout, continued to 3rd base on a Sean Scales single, and scored on an error. This left Scales at second and Quaranta, who reached on the error, at first, with Perry about to launch his game winner.
Dylan Hall received the win for 2 1/3 shutout relief innings of Ben Dum, while Fillingim was saddled with the tough defeat.
Strasburg will travel to Charlottesville tonight for game one of the championship series, set to begin at 7 pm. (See you there!)
Pictures of the game will be posted to Facebook later this morning! (Video of Perry rounding the bases is already up)