WINCHESTER — Before Wednesday’s game with Warrenton Post 72 West, the Winchester Post 21 coaching staff got together and decided they might use six pitchers per contest over the next few games.
At least for one night, Frankie Ritter trashed those plans, and he did it against one of the best teams in District 15-16, which is comprised of nine teams.
Winchester manager Anthony Hargrove was hoping Ritter could get through Warrenton West’s lineup once and give them two or three innings, then he’d go to a series of relievers for one inning each.
Instead, Ritter went out and delivered a complete game, allowing one earned run, six hits, one walk and striking out six batters over seven innings of work at James Wood High School’s R. Charles Hott Field.
Ritter — who starred as a third baseman in his freshman year at Shenandoah University this past spring — also went 2 for 3 with a double and two RBIs to lead Post 21 to a 5-1 win and a season sweep of Post 72. Winchester (7-7-1, 5-5-1 district) is the only team to beat Post 72 (8-2, 7-2).
“We had to keep sending Frankie out there because he was doing such a great job,” Hargrove said. “I told him [Tuesday] night, you give me three strong innings, I’ll take it.”
In part because of players being away for things like vacation and other responsibilities (Post 21 shares Ritter with New Market of the Rockingham County Baseball League), Winchester has leaned a lot on Jacob Bell’s pitching prowess.
The recent James Wood graduate has usually delivered. He’s had four outings in which he’s pitched between 3.1 and 6 innings, giving up one earned and four hits or less in those outings.
But if Winchester wants to be one of the two teams from the district that will qualify for the state tournament in Lynchburg, it’ll need more people to raise their level on the mound. (The district regular-season champ and tournament champ will advance to the state tournament in Lynchburg the week of July 28, and the tournament runner-up will go if the regular-season champ wins the tournament.)
Prior to Ritter’s performance, Post 21 had a 4.61 ERA, a full two runs higher than the 2.61 ERA Winchester entered the postseason with last year.
But Winchester is showing it has some strong arms. John McIntyre pitched four innings of shutout ball against the Front Royal Post 53 Gladiators on July 2 and Tanner George pitched five innings of shutout relief on Saturday against the Stafford Post 290 Nationals.
And then Ritter had his performance against Warrenton West.
“He was spotting a good fastball,” Hargrove said of Ritter. “And that’s the key to him having a good game because he’s not going to blow it by you. He’s going to have to move it around and spot it. He did that tonight. He did a great job, and I couldn’t be happier.”
Ritter said he couldn’t have done it without the defense behind him. Right fielder Chandler Ballenger saved a run by chasing down a ball in the gap in the first inning, then helped double off Post 72’s Craig Miles, who was on first when the ball was hit and had rounded second when Ballenger caught the ball. Ballenger whipped the ball back into the infield and the ball was relayed to first to easily beat Myers to the bag.
Later — after a defensive switch — Eamon Juday (RBI single in the first inning) threw out Miles at second base when Miles tried to stretch a single into a double when Juday was in right field.
Hargrove said Post 21 wants Bell to be strong for the postseason, so he’ll try and limit his usage over the final six regular-season games. While Winchester didn’t wind up trotting out its pitching committee approach on Wednesday, Hargrove believes it can be successful.
“I’m just asking them to throw me one inning, and if you have a great inning, we might stick you back out there and go from there,” Hargrove said. “I think most of these guys are capable of giving me two to three innings. If they just focus doing well for a short amount of time, that’s going to help them with their confidence.”
Offense rolling along
This year’s Post 21 team has only four players back from last year’s team. Hargrove said Post 21 doesn’t have the same amount of power as last year, but the team is still finding ways to produce. Winchester is averaging 6.5 runs per game, the same amount it averaged during the 2018 regular season.
“We’re having to bunt, hit-and-run a little bit, do some things that I didn’t have to do a lot of last year,” Hargrove said. “The guys are starting to buy into that.”
A bunt single by Daniel Croyle to lead off the fifth keyed a three-run inning that boosted Winchester’s lead to 5-0. Post 21 recorded five hits in the inning, three of which didn’t leave the infield.
Winchester’s batting average of .294 is down from .313 from last year, but with an average of 5.1 walks per game it’s creating plenty of traffic on the basepaths. Wednesday’s game — in which Jack Duvall had the only walk — marked the first time Winchester didn’t have at least three walks in a game.
“We’re patient, and we make the pitchers throw more pitches, and they get in trouble,” Ritter said. “Nobody gets down, and everybody keeps their heads up.”
The left-handed hitting Ballenger had a frustrating first two at-bats on Wednesday, as he grounded out to first base both times. With his team leading 3-0 and the bases loaded in the fifth, he changed his approach.
“My first two at-bats, I had a higher leg kick, and I was trying to kill the ball,” Ballenger said. “My third time up, I knew there were guys on base. I saw there was a big hole in left-center, so I just tried to be shorter [in my approach] and put it there.”
Ballenger sent a screaming line drive back up the middle a couple of feet to the side of Warrenton pitcher Cameron Lee to drive in Colby Monroe and Danny Lyman (two runs), who had each reached on singles.
Plenty of confidence
With five district games left, Post 21 is fighting to a top-four seed so they can host a quarterfinal game in the district tournament on July 22. (The semifinals and final will be July 24-25 at R. Charles Hott Field.)
No matter how the rest of the regular season plays out, Winchester has reason to believe it can win the tournament after beating a Warrenton West team that came in Wednesday looking to avenge its only loss.
“It’s been an odd year with dealing with vacation and a lot of people gone,” Hargrove said. “We’ve had to change a lot of lineups. [Warrenton] was at the top of the heap. I told them [Warrenton] wants to make up for that loss. I told them that if we’re here and everybody’s focused and dialed in, we have a chance to play with anybody in the league, and we showed that tonight.”
Hargrove said there was a stretch of two or three weeks ending in the last week of June where he had seven to eight players absent from his 18-player roster. On Wednesday, only three players were absent. The absences have given Hargrove a lot of chances to evaluate his entire roster and see what his players can do, but he’s glad that he can start to zero in on a lineup and pitching rotation he can be comfortable with.
“If we come together and play as a team, we’re hard to beat,” Ballenger said. “We’re just a good team.”
Post 21 is next in action on Saturday with a doubleheader in Fredericksburg. Winchester will play Stafford Americans Post 290 at 3 p.m. and the Stafford Nationals at 5 p.m.