By Greg Brill - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- It already was a cool evening for mid-May, and Tre Porter started to cramp while he was at-bat in the third inning Thursday night.
Sherando baseball coach Pepper Martin walked down from the third-base coaches box and smoothed Porter's calf.
Porter finished his at-bat with a walk and took ginger steps to first base. When he came back to make his warm-up pitches, Porter twice grimaced from the mound.
"I tried to fight through it," Porter said. "Just do what I needed to do for the team."
The thing was, the biggest hurt was to be felt by Handley, which entered the night all alone in first place in the Northwestern District.
Sherando did its part to gain a share of the district lead by knocking the Judges from their perch, 10-5, at Bridgeforth Field. If Porter had any discomfort in the middle innings, it didn't show. Porter pitched six complete innings and allowed just two runs before turning over duties to Zach Carney.
"We always have some concerns because we're a pretty [close] team and we care about each other," Sherando second baseman Brad Deck said. "It's hard to watch [a teammate] limping. But [Porter's] a fighter -- he's not going to come out. He's our Ironman out there."
Often, Porter -- who also went 2-for-3 with three RBIs -- had to work himself in and out of trouble. Porter (122 pitches) ran many counts full, but in each of his last four innings Porter finished the Judges off with a strikeout. Not that a high number of strikeouts (he had six) were expected of Porter. He gave up just five hits and allowed one earned run as he improved to 3-1.
"I got some bullpen [sessions] in practice, since I haven't been out [to pitch] for a while," Porter said. "I came in with a good mindset on the mound and tried to throw strikes.
"[Handley was] riding me the whole game, but that just gave me more motivation to get them out. My calf didn't bother me much after the third inning. I started stretching in the dugout and my teammates rubbed it for me. And it got better toward the end of the game."
Getting productive innings out of one of his top pitchers made Martin happy.
"Tre really did battle out there and competed," Martin said. "His pitch count was high and he didn't get a lot of strikeouts tonight, but that wasn't within our game plan. Our game plan was to prevent [Handley] from hitting the ball hard, and for the most part, Tre stuck to the plan.
"When he had baserunners [on], he really focused in on what he had to do to prevent them from scoring. He had some confidence in his defense to make some plays behind him, which they did."
The Warriors stole Millbrook's script from Friday, when the Pioneers scored all their runs with two outs and put up 15 hits to trounce Sherando 9-4. Against three Handley pitchers, Sherando (14-4, 5-2 Northwestern) collected 15 hits and all nine starters hit safely.
"We made adjustments," Martin said. "Our hitters -- one through nine -- had an unselfish approach at the plate. All our kids bought into it tonight and our energy was there. We've been searching for that, but certainly your energy level gets elevated a bit when you get a strong pitching performance like we got from Tre and get key hits to get the lead."
With Millbrook's win at home Thursday over James Wood, there is now a three-way tie for first in the district between the Judges, Warriors, and Pioneers. Each team has one district game left. Sherando plays at Skyline on Saturday, Handley hosts James Wood on Monday, and Millbrook travels to Skyline on Tuesday.
"We had to take care of ourselves," Martin said. "We put ourselves in a corner and now we've got to fight our way back out. This [win] was one of the steps, and the next one will be Saturday."
The Warriors understood urgency plenty enough. Not only did Sherando want to avenge an earlier loss to the Judges, but it wanted to put the Millbrook loss far behind and come out this time with energy, something Martin said was lacking from his team in its loss last Friday.
Being able to hit up and down the lineup paid off well for the Warriors, who scored eight runs with two outs.
Sherando spotted Handley (7-12, 5-2) a first-inning run before scoring two in its half of the second.
The Warriors were aggressive right from the start. Deck got thrown out on a one-hop throw to the plate by Handley center-fielder Aubrey Wilkerson, trying to score on Brandon Fletcher's single, for the second out of the second. An infield error followed on Dominique Porter's infield grounder and Tre Porter followed with a two-run double to deep left for the lead.
When the Warriors came back to bat in the third, the bottom of the order provided just the right spark. Four straight hits soon had the lead up to 6-1.
Jared Bentley started things with a two-out RBI double that rolled to the fence before getting recovered. Deck then had a ground single through the left side to drive in Bentley, Fletcher singled by shortstop Jacob Rudolph, and Dominique Porter had a quality at-bat with a two-strike, run-scoring single the opposite way through the right side to drive in Deck and knock out Handley starter Sean Goodson.
When the Judges defeated the Warriors 4-3 on April 22, it was Goodson's pitching that kept Sherando's bats to minimal damage. Not on Thursday, though. In his 2 2/3 innings, Goodson (3-3) gave up nine hits, six runs (four earned), walked one and struck out one.
"When you don't get ahead in the count, it kind of negates some of the things [Goodson] can do," Handley coach Eddie Simmons said. "When you're throwing ball one and ball two and then you consistently have to throw the ball over the main part of the plate, hitters like Sherando has are going to find a way to hit it."
The Judges found the bottom of Sherando's order to be tough outs all night. Deck (2-for-3, RBI) in the No. 7 spot, Fletcher (2-for-3, two runs scored) at No. 8, and Dominique Porter (1-for-3, RBI, two runs scored) at No. 9, were retired a combined three times in the game in 12 plate appearances.
"Really all season the bottom of our order has been coming through," Deck said. "It's pretty unique for a team, because you don't see it that much. Our team has that. Being down there kind of helps because pitchers just want to go after you."
Handley also used Nolan Potts (three walks in two innings) and Cody Unger (four earned runs) to finish up, but Sherando seemed to have momentum throughout.
"[Sherando's] a great team. To beat them once was something special, because they've got some great kids on their side," Simmons said. "We felt like we had what it takes to come out and beat them a second time, and tonight their kids didn't let it happen."
Sean Kelly had three hits and three RBIs for Handley.