By John Leonard
One of the best-kept secrets in this Valley League season is that the Strasburg Express have one of the best pitching staffs in the league. It’s hidden a little bit because of the tiny bandbox they play in, but this year the Express can chuck it. In 341 ⅓ innings in the regular season, the team ranked fourth in ERA at 4.40, first in total strikeouts with 434, and second in batting average against, at .226.
Those arms were on full display last night, as a combination of five pitchers shut out the hot-hitting Waynesboro Generals in game two of the finals to push the Strasburg Express to the 2021 Valley League title.
Strasburg’s starter, Dalton Skinner, threw five outstanding innings, allowing only two hits, no runs, and one walk while striking out three. Matt Kleinfelter threw a shutout sixth inning, followed by another shutout inning by Robert Kelley. Matt Poston entered the game in the eighth, and in a gentle rain, walked Will Prater and Alejandro Figueredo to start his inning, but he settled down and struck out Zach Levenson, and then got Alonzo Rubalcaba to hit into a double play to end the threat. Ryan Ammons, the Express back-end arm for much of the season, came in the ninth and struck out two to end the season.
The Express offense, no slouch either, started off with a bang, as Brayton Brown led off the game with a triple to right center, and scored when the very next batter, Tripp McKinlay, singled him in. They added a run in the sixth when McKinlay led off with a double, advanced to third on a Ryan Galanie single, and then scored on an Eric Toth fielder’s choice. The team’s power was on display in the seventh, even in a pitcher’s park like Kate Collins, when Cameron Clonch and Zach Ketterman each sent pitches over the fence, chasing Generals starter Bradley Wilson and making the score 4-0.
The game was not without controversy, of course. In the fifth, Waynesboro threatened to score when Joey Rezek doubled with one out, and went to third on a wild pitch. However, he was called out on a bang-bang play at the plate on an attempted suicide squeeze.The Ketterman home run was also a close call, as some home fans in Waynesboro were certain the ball flew to the wrong side of the right field foul pole.
But in the end it wouldn’t have mattered, as this day was about the Express winning the franchise’s third Jim Lineweaver cup. In the team’s ten years of existence, they have advanced to the finals six times (including five of the last six), while winning the title three times. They have a good thing going!
Strasburg Head Coach George Laase, one of the truly kind people on this earth, brought home his first title in his 15th season chasing a ring- as a player (in Staunton in 2003), assistant coach, and head coach. His parents, sister, and niece were able to travel to the Valley from Ohio to watch the title chase and celebrate with George and his wife.
As a nice touch, emergency vehicles in Strasburg gave the Express team bus an escort back to First Bank Park late last night.
So while the Express fans and players celebrate, preparations have already begun on the 2022 Valley League season, when we’ll do it all again!