Before the game, I overheard a Strasburg fan say, “I don’t know; the wind is blowing in. It might be a pitchers’ night.”
It was not. The ball was flying out of First Bank Park at an alarming rate, as both teams combined for seven home runs.
The Express started things off with two solo shots in the first inning off the Bandits’ Ryan Mitschele- one by Josiah Ortiz, and the second one out later by Sonny Dicharia. Ortiz’s went over the Fairfield by Marriott sign in left field, with Dicharia went the other way- over the right field fence.
After that, though, the starting pitchers, Mitschele and Strasburg’s Edward Urena, held things in check until the fifth inning. In the fifth, the teams traded two-run home runs. Woodstock got a blast from Lael Lockhart, scoring Aidan Nagle, and Griffin Cheney answered with his own blast, just over a leaping Jaylon Deshazier in left-center, scoring Holden Fiedler to retake the lead, 4-2.
Woodstock’s shortstop, Josh Jones, ripped a solo home run to left in the top of the sixth, but the Express exploded for six runs in the bottom of the inning, thanks to eight hits and an error. Dicharia hit his second home run of the night off Mitschele, but then Strasburg singled the Bandits to death- first reliever Seth Comer, and then one more off Hunter Hoopes. After Dicharia’s homer, it went like this: Tyler Johnson single, Zach Scott single, Austin Garofalo reached on an error, Fiedler two-run single, Garrett Evans RBI single, Griffin Cheney RBI single (off the right field fence, almost turning into a Keystone Kops situation, as Cheney ran to second even though it was occupied… but he made it back to first safely). Wow.
Down 10-3 and with the season in the balance, the Bandits answered with four in the seventh off Jose Torrealba. Willy Escala led off with a single, Nagle walked, and Lockhart was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Austin Bates hit a sacrifice fly, and then Caleb Ward launched a home run almost to the Shenandoah River to score three.
This hard-hitting lineup wasn’t done, adding three more in the eighth to tie the game at 10. Deshazier and Escala were both hit by a pich, moved up on a Nagle groundout, and both scored on a Lockhart single. The cutoff man was missed badly, so Lockhart cruised into second, and scored easily when Bates hit a single. The inning ended when Bates was called out attempting to advance to third after another missed cutoff man.
Woodstock’s Conor Miller threw a 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the eighth, and Evan Rathburn came in and set down three straight Bandits in the ninth to set the stage…
Dicharia led off the ninth against Miller with a single to center. Hunter Blalock followed with a slow roller to short, which slipped between Jones’s legs to put runners on first and second. Zach Scott sacrificed them over to second and third, and the Bandits walked Garofalo intentionally to load the bases. Brandon Henson pinch hit with a chance to win it, and did just that, hitting a grounder to short. Jones flipped to second for one, but Henson beat the throw to first, sending the Express to their fourth finals in the last five years.
Rathburn got the win, his second in two nights, and Miller was the losing pitcher.
Strasburg now awaits the winner of the Charlottesville and Staunton series. The championship series will begin either on Sunday or Monday night at Strasburg.
**File this under “You always see something new at every baseball game”: Sonny Dicharia swung and missed at a pitch in the 9th, lost control of his bat, and his bat stuck in the screen about twenty feet off the ground, where it stayed until the end of the game.**