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Cannons upended in Valley Baseball League playoffs

Inside a full and occasionally raucous Fireman's Field, the North Division pennant-winning Purcellville Cannons lost to the No. 4 seed and red hot Winchester Royals 9-4 Tuesday night, falling in the first-round playoff series 2-1 in a tense match-up that builds a growing Valley Baseball League rivalry.

The crowd of 826, mostly supporting Cannons maroon but a large throng dressed in Royals green, traded cheers across the diamond as the decisive contest progressed. But it was the Winchester partisans with the most to cheer about.

The Royals scored first in the third when Alex Reynolds' two-out ground ball went exactly where second baseman Nolan Ritchie had just left to cover second on a stolen-base attempt. Then Winchester exploded for four in the fourth on three straight RBI hits off Purcellville's lefty starter Colin Reid, a Woodgrove High School product now with Radford.

Meanwhile, Winchester starter Trent Rider kept the Cannons quiet, going into the seventh allowing eight hits. Trevin Esquerra drilled a two-out double to deep right-center in the fifth for Purcellville's only run until the eighth.

Cannons catcher Beaux Guilbeau lofted a sacrifice fly for the second run, and Ritchie lined a single to left for the third. Esquerra treated the Cannons faithful to a long home run to open the final inning, blasting a shot just to the right of straightaway centerfield for his 10th homer of the season - second-most in the league - and his first as a right-handed batter.

Loudoun Valley graduate and Liberty infielder Trey McDyre nearly clubbed a rally-making RBI hit in the fifth, right after Esquerra's double. On a close call, McDyre's liner just beyond third base was ruled foul.

McDyre finished 1 for 5. Esquerra had three hits while Ritchie and Lamar Briggs had two each. Winchester ran wild on the basepaths, swiping six bags. Dillon Reed had three of those steals and a team-high three hits.

The Cannons stranded 13 men on base.

"It's frustrating when you do that, but to the Royals' credit, they got out of some jams we put them in," said Purcellville manager Brett Fuller. "They played a really good game."

In a best-of-three series opening Wednesday, the Royals - who had an eight-game win streak in late July - face defending VBL champion Strasburg Express to decide the North Division title-winner and the opponent for the Charlottesville TomSox in the best-of-three Lineweaver Cup championship series.

Charlottesville racked up a 32-10 mark in the regular season, by far the league's best. The TomSox are 4-0 in their two playoff rounds. One year older than Purcellville's VBL franchise, Charlottesville is ranked No. 6 in CollegiateSummerBaseball.com's Top-30.

No sophomore slump

The Cannons complete their second summer of collegiate wood-bat baseball in downtown Purcellville with their second-straight playoff appearance. Whereas last year they needed a late hot streak to sneak in, this year Purcellville concluded with a 26-16 to win the six-team division by 1.5 games over New Market.

The Cannons held the top perch in the North Division from opening day through the season finale.

"That was special. That's hard to do. I'm very proud the Cannons were able to achieve that and win our first pennant," Fuller said.

"But the ultimate goal is to win a championship. Didn't know if we could get there, because Charlottesville's really, really good. But I thought we had what it takes. We just ran across a hot team."

McDyre spoke of the convenience of playing summer ball in his hometown.

"It's always nice to sleep in your own bed at night and always having the home crowd behind you," said McDyre. "You have a little bit of pride with your hometown written across your chest."

Two Purcellville players - Tyler Ratliff and Valley grad Will Reid - left the Cannons upon being drafted by MLB organizations. Both had been Cannons in the inaugural 2016 season.

"I've known [Reid] since I coached him five, six years ago in a summer league," Fuller said. "To see him grow and develop as a pitcher is really satisfying to me, not only as a former coach but as someone from this area."

Catcher Matt Reid, pitcher Alex London, infielder Raul Cabrera, outfielder Andrew Zban and utility man Onassis Matos are also two-time Cannons.

Matos, a fan favorite hosted by the Pratt family, spoke of why he chose to come back to Purcellville.

"I like these fans, I like this atmosphere," he said, looking around at Fireman's Field. "Everything was fun last year and I wanted to give it another shot. This was a great summer. Every day was a memory."

Winchester 9, Purcellville 4

WP: Trent Rider
LP: Colin Reid
HR: Kohl Gilmore (W); Trevin Esquerra (P)

Winchester wins series 2-1; will play Strasburg for North Division championship.


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