VFA squeaks past Expert Express

By B.J. Guinn

   On a perfect evening for baseball at Elizabethton National Little League Park, Valley Forge Auction and Expert Express clashed to see who would move on to the championship round of the STAR City Tournament.
   Express gave VFA all they had but came up short as VFA advanced to the finale with a 4-3 win.
   This was little league baseball in the truest sense with all the key ingredients: strong pitching, seamless defense, and clutch hitting.
   These two teams put on a real show and if this is an indication of the rest of the season, we'll be seeing some exciting baseball.
   VFA starting pitcher Blake Hopson was untouchable on the hill, going three scoreless innings. He only allowed one baserunner, and catcher Garrett Dykes gunned him down trying to steal second.
   He recorded six K's and faced the minimum in three innings work.
   Express starting pitcher Britt Yelton recorded two quick outs in the bottom of the first to get off to a good start. Then VFA's bats came to life as the team tallied three runs with Hopson, Brandon Woods, Chris Dunbar and Justin Peters getting four consecutive hits before the defense could stop the rally.
   Express got on the board in the top of the fourth when Yelton led off with a walk and eventually scored when Nic Pappantonio hit a hot shot to short that couldn't be handled. VFA buckled down and retired the side with no more damage done.
   With VFA up 3-1 in the top of the fifth, Express first baseman Brent Thomas led off with a shot down the first-base line.
   That's all it took to give Express some momentum as Hunter Taylor followed with a triple to plate Thomas and Frankie Birchfield ripped a ground-rule double to right to score Taylor and knot the contest at 3.
   VFA pitcher Woods settled down and stranded two by striking out one and getting the third out on a dribbler back to the mound.
   In the bottom half of the fifth, Bradley McVey led off by ripping a double to center and pumping up manager Jerry Hodges' crew.
   McVey went to third on an errant throw to the pitcher and then scored the go-ahead run when Chris Brumitt hit the first pitch to the hole at third leaving the third baseman no choice but to take the force out at first.
   Express pitcher Hunter Taylor retired the next two hitters and kept them within striking distance as they had one more chance to tie or take the lead.
   Dustin Carden led off the top of the sixth by ripping a 2/2 pitch to deep third, where Bradley McVey made a clutch play gloving the ball and throwing a strike to first just ahead of Carden to record the first out of the inning. Woods pitched tough to close the lid and save a 4-3 win for VFA.
   VFA got strong pitching from Hopson the first three innings and Woods, who only allowed two hits with four K's and two walks, over the last three.
   VFA collected six hits with McVey leading in that category, going 2-for-2 and scoring the winning run. Hopson, Woods, Dunbar and Peters were 1-for-2 on the evening.
   Express got hits from Blake Russell, Hunter Taylor and Frankie Birchfield. Russell, Taylor and Yelton tallied one run apiece.