Second-year franchise making waves in Valley League playoffs
SHENANDOAH JUNCTION – It’s been a postseason of firsts for the Charles Town Cannons.
First playoff game victory. First playoff series victory. First time in the semifinals. First time in the championship series.
Not too shabby for a second-year franchise playing in a historic baseball league dating back to the late 1890s.
“We’ve had a good run,” said Brett Fuller, Cannons’ team president and field manager. “We’ve come together at the right time.”
Charles Town, the fifth seeded of eight playoff teams, opened the best-of-three championship series Monday night with an 11-1 loss on the road against the Waynesboro Generals.
The Cannons were scheduled to host Game 2 after press time Tuesday at Sager Field at Jefferson High School in Shenandoah Junction.
A victory and Charles Town would force a deciding Game 3 on Wednesday night in Waynesboro, Va. A loss and the second-seeded Generals would repeat as defending Valley Baseball League champions.
Regardless of the outcome, the Cannons have made great strides during year two in Charles Town after relocating from Luray, Va., a franchise formerly known as the Luray Wranglers.
The Cannons closed the regular season 23-19 late last month, boasting their second consecutive winning season in as many years.
The Valley League is an 11-team summer collegiate wooden-bat league centered in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The Cannons are the only team from West Virginia in the league, which is endorsed by the NCAA and sponsored in part by Major League Baseball.
Where they lost in the first round of the postseason last year, Charles Town flourished to a best-of-three quarterfinals victory against Staunton last week. The Cannons followed that up this past weekend with a two-game series sweep of Strasburg, the team that ousted them during the first round of the playoffs last year.
“One thing we can do is hit the ball,” Fuller said. “So I expect us to go out and do what we’ve doing all season, which is put some runs on the board and rely on our pitching to shut the other team down.”
Prior to Game 1 of the championship series, in which Charles Town was held to just one run, the Cannons had scored an average of 7.6 a game in the playoffs, including a 14-6 Game 1 quarterfinal drubbing of the Staunton Braves in Staunton, Va.
Led in part by utility infielder Charlie Pal and shortstop Stephen Kerr, the Cannons closed out the first round of the playoffs with a nail-biting 6-5 Game 3 victory in Staunton.
Charles Town then won back-to-back games against the Strasburg Express, including a dominating 8-2 victory Saturday in Strasburg to secure a berth in the Lineweaver Cup championship series.
Pal has led the Cannons with a .450 batting average through the first six playoff games, including two home runs and seven RBI.
Kerr has batted .429 during the same period, including his first home run of the season and a league postseason-best 12 hits.
Defending champion Waynesboro swept the Aldie Senators in round one before holding on for a close 4-3 Game 3 victory Sunday against the Covington Lumberjacks in Waynesboro.
“They’re a solid team,” Fuller said of Waynesboro, which entered the postseason on a six-game winning streak. “D.J. (King) is a good coach and he makes good moves as a manager. We’ll have to play chess with him and try to match up as best as we can.”
The Cannons also have received strong production at the plate during the postseason from first baseman Austin Bream, outfielder Bryant Munoz, second baseman Chris Townsend and third baseman Justin Esquerra.
Andrew Yacyk, who on Monday was named as Charles Town’s lone first-team All-Valley League selection as a designated hitter, has added two home runs and six RBI in the playoffs. Yacyk leads the league with 10 home runs.
Right-handed pitcher Stephen Solomon has led the way on the mound for Charles Town in the playoffs, including recording a complete-game victory against Strasburg in Game 2 of the semifinals. Tyler Dearden and Jared Jordan also have recorded postseason victories for the Cannons, as has position player Zach Zyburt, who pitched three shutout innings during Game 1 of the semifinals against Strasburg.
Jack Charleston and Austin Ray have been strong on the mound, with each recording postseason saves.
“A lot of the credit this season goes to Mike Smith, our general manager,” Fuller said. “He’s the one who went out and found the majority of the players and signed them to contracts and built a solid team up the middle with our catchers, middle infielders and centerfielders.
“Mike deserves a lot of the credit as far as putting together the team,” Fuller said. “Everything else just kind of fell into place.”