The NBA finals just saw the Milwaukee Bucks, title-less since 1971, and the Phoenix Suns, without a title in the history of the franchise, battle it out for a championship. This series between the Strasburg Express and Waynesboro Generals is not that- it’s more along the lines of the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers. The Express have been in the finals five out of the last seven years, winning in 2015 and 2016, and the Generals have appeared in the finals as recently as 2016, had the league’s best regular season record in 2019, and won back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014.
While the history of these franchises is filled with success, the teams had disparate paths this season. Strasburg finished first in the North Division with a record of 26-15, while the Generals limped to the finish in fourth place in the South at 19-2. The Express swept both New Market and Winchester to get to the finals, while the Generals swept Charlottesville, and then outlasted Staunton in three games to advance to the finals.
On this mild evening in Strasburg, game one started with Express starter Daniel Ouderkirk setting down the Generals in order. In the bottom of the first, with one out, the Express grabbed control of this one. Tripp McKinlay smoked a line drive off Landon Ginn just fair down the left field line that cleared the fence, putting the Express up, 1-0. Ryan Galanie followed with a double that split the gap in left center, and immediately scored (running through a stop sign) on Eric Toth’s single to right field. Graham Brown next put the home team up 4-0 with another drive down the left field line, long gone, and called fair by the home plate umpire. After an out, Mac McCroskey hit a double just inside the right field line, but was stranded at second.
Waynesboro got one back in the second when Zach Levenson walked, took second on a wild pitch, moved to third on an Alex Arauz groundout, and then scored on another wild pitch.
The Express added three more in the fifth off reliever Ethan Smock- or, really, Graham Brown added three, as Brown launched his second home run of the game with Galanie and Toth aboard, making the score 7-1. This home run would have been out in any Valley League park- it was no First Bank Park special, that’s for sure. Brown was clearly the hitter of the game in this one, as he finished with two home runs and drove in five of the Express seven runs.
The Generals fought back against Ouderkirk when he tired in the sixth. With one out, Levenson singled to left, and Jackson Ross topped a grounder back to Ouderkirk, who fumbled it. Arauz then walked, loading the bases for Joey Rezek, while Ouderkirk exhorted his manager to leave him in. Given his wish, Ouderkirk gave up a two-run double to Rezek, making the score 7-3. Ouderkirk was lifted for lefty Trevor Sharp, who struck out the next two batters to get out of more trouble.
And that was it for the scoring. Brady Jones was excellent out of the pen for the Gens, throwing 3 ⅔ shutout innings in relief, and Geo Rivera finished things off for the Express, firing two shutout innings himself (while the home fans yelled “G-E-O, Go!”).
Daniel Ouderkirk was the winning pitcher, and Landon Ginn received the loss. Express head coach George Laase said this about the six-foot-nine righthander: “Daniel’s baseball journey the past two years has been full of ups and downs, and to see him get the development this summer that he needed to prove to everybody that he is a top prospect, it’s absolutely priceless… to see him back in command with confidence is only going to boost his draft status. He really showed up tonight in a big way.”
The teams will meet again tonight in Waynesboro for game two (at 7 PM), when the Generals will try to extend the series and the Express will attempt to win the franchise’s third Valley League title.