By Jeremy Stafford - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Sherando junior Chris Gray stared down teammate Brogan Hoover from second base; Dominique Porter stared him down from third.
James Wood center fielder Andrew Burnett was also in on the staring. With a diving catch in the third inning, Burnett had already robbed Hoover of a base hit. Right fielder Kyle Hevner had done the same to Hoover in the first.
The pressing need for a hit, Hoover admitted, was mounting.
"When the kids are making plays in front of you, the pressure's on, kinda," Hoover said. "But then again, it's not, because you can go up there and you can relax, and you can do what you need to do to help the team out."
James Wood pitcher Niko Bobadilla strung a fastball down the heart of the plate; Hoover's bat met the pitch and sent it to center field with an equal and opposite force.
Burnett would need a 10-foot leap, not a dive, to nab this bomb.
Hoover's blast skipped to the warning track, and Gray and Porter crossed home.
Though a nagging hamstring injury grabbed hold of Hoover as he rounded second, he managed to cap his inside-the-park home run with a yelp and a fist pump.
The three runs Hoover drove in that fifth inning represented Sherando's third, fourth and fifth runs in a 14-5 win over James Wood -- a score which gives little indication of how the game actually played out.
Sherando sent only four batters to the plate in the first inning, and only six through the next three innings. The Warriors' only base runner through those four innings was designated hitter Jacob Carney, whom Bobadilla walked in the first.
Coming off consecutive one-run losses to Handley and Liberty, Sherando was off to the exact kind of start it didn't need.
"It was very important," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said of the win. "We drop a third one in a row, then the self-doubts, without question, creep in.
"It was a very pivotal game in our season, even though it was game 16."
And though Bobadilla wasn't a band saw on the mound -- he had two strikeouts -- he was as effective as he's been all season, guiding his pitches along the black of home plate, and at varying speeds.
Burnett's antics in center field helped, too.
The heater Bobadilla tossed to Hoover was the first mistake he made all night. But after retiring 10 of the first 12 batters he faced, Bobadilla watched his once fine defense commit one error in each of the last three innings.
In the fifth inning, a fielding error at third base allowed Brad Deck to score Sherando's first run of the night; a fielding error at shortstop with two outs in the sixth led to three more Sherando runs.
"They made their errors early and we made ours late," James Wood assistant coach Zach Stiles said. "That was the difference in the game. We always preach: 'It's not how you start, it's how you finish.'
"That was kinda the case again tonight."
Which comes as a relief to Sherando pitcher Zach Carney, who by his own admission didn't have his best stuff Thursday, yet played well enough to earn his third win of the season.
For whatever reason, his curveball rarely dropped, but neither did his confidence or his aggression.
Stiles said only a particularly confident kind of pitcher can still pound the strike zone down 2-0, as Carney had.
"Sometimes when you don't have your best stuff out there, you just gotta keep battling, " Carney said. "You know your defense behind you will make plays; offense, all through the lineup, one through 9, will get hits anytime.
"It's a lot easier to pitch when you know you've got guys behind you."