By Jeff Nations - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- Maybe it was fitting that a wild pitch swung the outcome of Tuesday night's wild and woolly Northwestern District baseball matchup between Sherando and Millbrook.
The Warriors, after trailing six runs early, managed to chip away at that deficit and send the game to extra innings before loading the bases in the top of the eighth against Pioneers reliever Travis Oyler.
For a moment, it seemed that Oyler might somehow escape the bases-juiced, no-out predicament when he got Jared Bentley to slap a weak grounder back to the mound to set up a force out at the plate. But Oyler's luck ran out against Dominique Porter when his fastball sailed by Pioneers catcher Ethan Mathews as Sherando's Erik Albers sprinted home for the go-ahead run. Brogan Hoover followed with a two-run single to cushion the Warriors' lead and it was enough, as Sherando (8-1, 2-0 Northwestern) pulled out an 11-9 victory.
"A [high school] baseball game is 21 outs," Warriors coach Pepper Martin said. "Fortunately our players didn't push the panic button. We as coaches tried to emphasize that we had X-amount of outs left and we had to keep them where they were, and we had to start chipping away at their lead. Really, the first four innings and the last four innings of this game were a tale of two totally different games for us."
Martin likely could have done without witnessing the first four innings, as the Pioneers jumped on Sherando starting pitcher Tre Porter early and often. Mike Dillow's RBI double in the bottom of the first gave the Pioneers the early lead, and Millbrook (3-4, 1-1) broke through for five more in the third. Tre Porter walked a pair of runners and Mathews singled to load the bases for Dillow, who delivered again with an RBI single.
The Pioneers' Collin Ryan drove in another run with a sacrifice fly and Adam Jackson followed with a long drive to right field. Albers nearly tracked down the tailing fly ball near the fence in right, but what would have been a spectacular running catch didn't quite come off as the ball squirted out of his glove. Jackson ended up with a triple and two RBIs, then scored on Brady Baker's infield single to put Millbrook up 6-0.
The Warriors got a run back in the top of the fourth on Bradley Deck's RBI single, but Millbrook answered in the bottom of the inning by pulling off a delayed steal of home. Dillow, at first after a single, drew a throw when he took off for second. As Dillow negotiated a run-down between first and second, Millbrook courtesy runner Jordan Miles sprinted home from third to score before Dillow safely retreated to first base.
"I tried to catch them off-guard and I got lucky that it worked," Millbrook coach Mike Smith said. "Little things like that in a game against Sherando -- I know they're going to come back -- I need to try to get as many runs across as possible early."
The Pioneers could have used a few more, as it turned out. Albers smacked a two-run single to right in the fifth off Millbrook starter Brad Smith to pull the Warriors closer.
Then in the sixth, the Warriors got three more runs on Derek Reid's RBI single and a two-run double from Zach Carney to pull within a run at 7-6.
"The pressure got to us again," Smith said. "This is the second time we've gotten up like that, it's gotten tight, and we haven't gotten over that hump yet. We're going to have to work on that."
The Pioneers stretched the lead back to two runs in the bottom of the sixth on Mathews' RBI single off Sherando reliever Jared Bentley, who escaped further damage by striking out the next two batters looking with two runners on to end the inning.
Bentley, who pitched the final three innings and allowed only two runs while striking out seven, picked up the win in relief.
"That's the third game this year that we've brought Bentley [in relief] and he's kept the other team in check and he's given us an opportunity to come back and win," Martin said. "... When we call him, he has been doing the job for us."
Bentley got the Warriors' seventh-inning rally started by reaching on an error with one out. Dominique Porter followed with a single and Hoover walked to load the bases, and Jacob Carney followed with a two-run single off Oyler to tie the game at 8-8.
After the Warriors' three-run eighth, Millbrook's Cody Houtz led off the bottom of the inning by getting hit by a pitch, then advancing to second on a wild pitch before scoring on Mathews' single to left. Bentley wrapped it up after that by inducing Dillow to ground out to first and getting Ryan on a groundout to second.
"I thought we played with a lot of heart," Smith said. "We just can't seem to put teams away right now. I don't know what it is. I think whenever a team starts to come back on us, we start to lose our focus a little bit and I think our pitchers ran out of steam a little bit tonight. It kind of all meshed in together."
Mathews and Dillow finished with three hits apiece for the Pioneers, and Casey Fauver added a double and a single.
For Sherando, Zach Carney and Albers had three hits each, and Jacob Carney had a pair of hits and walked three times.