07/27/2009 – Daily News Record
Written By Marcus Helton Sports Department Daily News Record HARRISONBURG – With less than a week remaining in the regular season, the Harrisonburg Turks still have a shot at a playoff spot, although the number of players here to help them get there is dwindling.
After Monday’s game at Luray, the Turks (19-21) were a game back for the final wildcard spot in the Valley League’s eight-team tournament with three games remaining, but their efforts have been hampered by the loss of five players in the past 10 days, several of them key contributors.
Turks manager Bob Wease said Monday that Arizona first baseman/outfielder Bobby Brown (knee) and East Tennessee State infielder Garrett May (arm) both went home with injuries, Bethune-Cookman pitchers Rayan Gonzalez and Roman Lancara each returned to Puerto Rico for personal reasons, and Troy University closer Chris Sorce left to mull a contract offer from the Seattle Mariners.
The biggest of the losses, Wease said, was Brown, who was the Turks’ leading hitter at .341 and was named MVP of the VBL All-Star Game after driving in the winning run.
“That’s one big bat out of the middle of our lineup,” Wease said. “He was one of the best first basemen in the league.”
Gonzalez, who was the team’s lone representative at the Mid-Atlantic Classic against the Cal Ripken League, was third on the team with 33 1/3 innings pitched, going 1-1 with an earned run average of 3.78. Lancara finished 2-0 with a 2.30 ERA, while Sorce led the team with three saves and posted a 0.98 ERA in 12 appearances.
“I’m sure it hurts us,” Turks center fielder Ryan Eden (New Orleans) said.
The lack of a bench has led Wease to suit up his son, Matt, a former player at Harrisonburg High School. The younger Wease is 0-for-3 at the plate in four games, and came on as a pinch runner to represent the potential tying score in Sunday’s 10-9 loss to New Market.
“I don’t like to cry sour grapes, but losing those five guys really has hurt us,” Bob Wease said. “Now we have three guys on the bench, and it’s hard to make any moves with just three guys.”
Wease said losing players late in the season is nothing new, adding players often depart after tiring of the grind that comes with playing day in and day out in the Valley.
“It gets a little tiring,” Eden said, “because we all did just come off, like, the college season. Before that, you’ve got your fall baseball, and you’re playing from August, nonstop until now. It gets a little tiring, but I’m sure we’re all here wanting to win, you know? No one wants to lose.”
Before the Luray game Monday, Wease said he thought the Turks needed to win three of their final five games to clinch a spot safely. Harrisonburg plays at Woodstock today. Its final home game is Wednesday against New Market, and it finishes the regular season at Luray on Thursday and at New Market on Friday.
One of the Turks’ biggest problems – and it’s sure to loom even larger with Brown gone – is a lack of offense. Only two remaining players have batting averages higher than .300 – Georgia Tech’s Thomas Nichols and Tampa’s Mike Schwartz are both hitting .313 – and the team’s combined .254 average is third-worst in the league.
“We just can’t seem to get a hit when it’s crucial for us,” Wease said. “It’s a strikeout, pop-up, or whatever.”
Harrisonburg has helped itself with solid pitching – its 4.03 team ERA is fifth in the league – but its offensive troubles and a penchant for untimely errors have left it needing a big final week to reach the playoffs.
“If we get in, that’s great,” Wease said. “If not, then hey, I can take a defeat. I’ve had eight good seasons, and this might be one of those [down] years. But don’t count us out yet, because if we get in, we can cause some serious damage.”
Marcus Helton Sports Writer Sports Department email@example.com 540-574-6285