7/30/05 – Daily News Record
Turks Face Braves In First Round By DUSTIN DOPIRAK Daily News-Record For the past three days, baseball has been an afterthought for the Harrisonburg Turks, but it’s been foremost on the minds of the Staunton Braves. The Braves had make-up games scheduled through Friday and the Turks had three days off, during which some of them went whitewater rafting, some went to the beach, and others just stayed home and hung out. So who has the advantage going into the teams’ best-of-three Valley League Southern Division semifinal series beginning at 7:30 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium? The Turks say they did. "It really puts us in a great position," catcher Matt Sluder said. "To have three days off right here, to reset our pitching staff and get it exactly how we want it for the playoffs is a huge advantage compared to a team like Staunton that has to play through [Friday] night. They don’t get any days off. They’re going to be dragging, their arms aren’t going to be all the way rested. I think it’s going to be a big deal just because we’re rested and itching to go. It’s not going to be like that for a lot of teams." After the opener today, the series will move to Staunton for a 7:30 p.m. game Sunday at John Moxie Memorial Stadium. Game 3, if necessary, will be at Memorial Stadium on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The winner will play the winner of the series between No. 1 seed Covington (25-17) and No. 4 seed Woodstock (15-27). In the North Division, No. 1 seed Luray (30-14) will play No. 4 seed Winchester (19-25) and No. 3 seed Front Royal (22-21) will play No. 2 seed New Market (26-18). The Turks (25-19) will take any edge they can get in their dead-even matchup with the Braves (21-22). Harrisonburg finished second in the South Division, 3 1/2 games ahead of third place-Staunton, but the regular season series ended in a 3-3 tie with a combined score of 27-27. "We’ve had some good games with them," Turks outfielder Lucas Delong said. "I think they blew us out once and we blew them out once. It should be a fun series." Staunton lost 6-3 to Waynesboro Friday. Manager Lance Mauck could not be reached for comment. The Turks hope having rested arms bolsters the advantage they already have on the mound. Harrisonburg’s team earned run average was third best in the Valley League in the regular season at 3.24 while the Braves finished seventh among the 10 VBL teams in that category at 4.43. All four of the pitchers manager Bob Wease plans to start in the playoffs posted ERA’s under 2.50. Left-hander Brad Mills of Arizona, who struck out 15 Braves in his last outing, will start Game 1. He’s 5-0 with a 1.62 ERA and 62 strikeouts, which ranks second in the VBL. Right-hander Eric Fussell (2-2, 1.28 ERA) will get the ball in Game 2, and fellow righty Sean Jarrett (4-1, 2.31 ERA) will start Game 3 or Game 1 of the South Division Final if the Turks sweep. That will be his first outing since his no-hitter against Waynesboro Sunday. Lefty Shawn Benson (4-2, 2.21 ERA) will start the Turks’ fourth game, be it Game 1 or Game 2 of the South Division final series. The Turks also have strong arms in the bullpen, including that of closer Chris Fessler (11 saves, 2.95 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 18 1/3 IP). "I think we have the best pitching staff in the league, and in a short series, we definitely have the advantage," Turks manager Bob Wease said. "Pitching always wins playoff games." The Braves don’t have anyone that has been quite as reliable, though they do have three strong starters, in former Stuarts Draft star Jake Rule (3-1, 3.61 ERA, 61 strikeouts), Notre Dame left-hander Wade Korpi (3-2, 3.71 ERA) and righty Kori Wade (2-2, 4.34 ERA). Offensively, the Braves have been led by outfielder Brandon Marsh (.315, three home runs, 24 RBIs), and infielder Nick Massari (.280, three HR, 18 RBIs). The Turks lost their two best hitters early in the season. First baseman Clint Robinson broke a bone in his left hand on June 23. Though he played just 16 of the Turks 44 games, he is still second on the team in RBIs with 20 as well as batting average at .349. Outfielder Scott Cousins was hitting .362 on July 12 when he broke the index finger in his left hand. Since losing those players, the Turks have been buoyed by Delong (.265, 3 HR, 22 RBIs), shortstop Brett Munster (.311, 1 HR, 19 RBIs), first baseman Jeff Carroll (.290, 1 HR, 20 RBIs), catcher Matt Denker (.307, 13 RBIs), and third baseman Danny Ramirez (.318). On the other side of the bracket Luray appears to be the favorite to win the league after winning the North Division regular season title with a 30-14 record. After beginning the season 2-6, the Wranglers won 28 of their next 38 games including 18 of their last 21. They lead the league in batting average (.283), ERA (2.96) and fielding percentage (.974), so they would appear to be a prohibitive favorite, but coach Mike Bocock knows nothing is automatic in a best-of-three series. "I feel good about my team going into the playoffs," Bocock said. "But I will say this, anybody can beat anybody two out of three."