Turks Tops

Burg Wins First Valley League Title Since ’00

By Mark Selig
Daily News Record

Harrisonburg – Harrisonburg manager Bob Wease often says that the truest measure of the Valley Baseball League’s best team is who wins the pennant, not the championship.

But Wease will surely take the feeling he experienced Saturday night after his Turks beat the Winchester Royals 5-3 to clinch the best-of-five VBL championship series in four games.

“It feels good,” Wease said from the field at Veterans Memorial Park.  “We’ve won a lot of pennants, but this is the first championship since what, 2000?  …You end on a high note and say goodbye to the guys.  It’s nice to say hello, but it’s sure hard to say goodbye.”

The Turks captured their 12th championship and first since 2000.  It was Wease’s third title since he took over the team in 1990.

Winchester (36-15) was the best team throughout the regular season, but the Turks (34-18) outplayed the Royals when it mattered most – rebounding from a 13-1 loss in Game 3 to win the series at home, 3 games to 1.

Relief pitcher Chris Pike (Fordham) entered in the sixth inning to wiggle the Turks out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam.  He pitched the final 3 2/3 innings without allowing a run and earned his third save of the season.

Pike struck out Jimmy Yezzo – the potential go-ahead run – on a high fastball for the final out.  Third baseman Jake Roberts was the first to run to the mound and dogpile on Pike, who was later hoisteed on teammates’ shoulders as “We Are The Champions” boomed from the stadium’s loudspeaker.

“The adrenaline is definitely still going, but you’re getting crushed down there,” Pike said of the post-game celebration.

After the game delayed roughly 25 minutes due to rain, Winchester got on the board quickly, scoring two runs in a first inning in which the Turks committed three errors.  But centerfielder Ryan Lee – another Turk from Fordham – launched a two-run home run to deep right field to tie the game at 2-2 in the bottom half of the inning.

The Turks took the lead in the second inning on an RBI sacrifice fly by Ryan Brown.  It scored designated hitter Grant Gibbs, who led off the inning with a single.  Harrisonburg added another run in the fourth when Jake Roberts led off the inning with a double, advanced to third on a wild pitch by Winchester relief pitcher Joshua Powers, and then scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Mason.

Meanwhile, Harrisonburg starter Shawn O’Neill (LaSalle) was faily sharp, allowing just an earned run in the fourth inning, when he minimized the damage of a bases-loaded, one-out situation.  When he found himself in the same predicament in the top of the sixth, Wease called on Pike, a reliable right-hander who entered with a 1.86 ERA this summer.

Pike got Winchester’s first and second hitters – Leo Rojas and Garret Autrey – to fly out to center field and left field, respectively, keeping the Turks’ advantage at 4-3.

“Coming in bases loaded I didn’t really have a game-plan,” Pike said.  “I’m just trying to throw strikes.  They kind of bailed me out with two pop-outs.”

Harrisonburg got some breathing room in the bottom of the sixth when second-year Turk R.J. Perucki laced a triple in the right-center field gap to plate Roberts and extend the lead to 5-3.  Sensing the title was close to their grasp, the Turks seemingly hung on every pitch thereafter.  Wease animatedly jolted out of the dugout after each scoreless half inning that Pike put up, and the players roared along with him.

“It just comes down to everyone just wanting it,” Lee said.  “…It means a lot.  You get here in the beginning and don’t really know too many people and it’s kind of just staying here, staying in shape, just get your reps.  Then you start to become friends with kids, build relationships with them and the coach.  You really want to win.  You really want to do well.”

The Turks finished the regular season in second place in the South Division with a 27-16 record, and they swept Rockbridge in the best-of-three first round of the playoffs.  After loosing Game 1 of the semi-finals against Waynesboro, Harrisonburg bounced back with consecutive wins to clinch that series, which ended on a seven-inning, rain-shortened game.

The Turks took control of the championship series with 13-4 and 6-2 wins before putting up a stinker in Game 3 – a road loss in which Winchester scored nine runs on 10 hits in the first 1 1/3 innings against Harrisonburg starter Alex Cruz.

The left-handed O’Neill – who led the Turks with a 1.40 ERA, went 4-1 and even saved five games – gave the Turks a quality start in Game 4, and Pike took them home.

“What I’ve told you all year long;  Good pitching always beats good hitting,” Wease said.  “Look at the scoreboard when we throw our good pitchers.  I mean Winchester’s got a heck of a hitting ballclub but see what happens when they face good pitching.  We beat them.”

Wease, who has baseball connections across the country, said he always looks to secure his pitching staff first and foremost.  Asked what he’ll do with his summer nights now that the VBL season is over, Wease mentioned cleaning up the field and one other task that will be important if he wants to repeat.

“August the 15th I’ll start recruiting for next year,” he said.

Winchester      200 001 000 – 3 6 0
Harrisonburg  210 101 00x   – 5 8 3

Neely, Powers (4), Lidyard (6), Jones (7) and Filauro; O’Neill, Pike (6) and Murray.  W-ONeill (4-1)  L-Neely (5-3)  SV – Pike (3).  HR: H-Lee (5)