By Brad Fauber - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Sherando catcher Chase Smallwood had a few words of encouragement for Warriors starting pitcher Tre Porter as the two spoke prior to Saturday's Northwestern District semifinal game against No. 4 Skyline.
"I looked at him and I [said], 'Well, I hope you pull what Justin Verlander did last night,'" Smallwood said, referencing the Detroit Tigers pitcher's complete game one-hitter against Pittsburgh on Friday night.
Porter responded by performing his best Verlander impression for the Warrior faithful, firing a complete game shutout while allowing just three hits in Sherando's 7-0 win over the Hawks at Millbrook High School. The top-seeded Warriors move on to face No. 2 Millbrook in Tuesday's championship game.
Porter used a steady combination of fastballs and off-speed pitches, including a knee-buckling curveball, to consistently keep the Skyline hitters off balance. The senior made a point of working ahead in the count as he worked into a three-ball count just once and threw just 71 pitches in his seven innings of work.
"I think it was a good performance, but the defense was real good behind me today. I just knew I had to throw for strikes and make [Skyline] hit the ball because my defense was making plays," said Porter, who struck out seven batters and did not allow a walk. "I was in a good rhythm. I felt good with my curveball -- my changeup wasn't working too well -- but once I got [the curveball] across, everything else was pretty good."
Porter's job was made much easier when Sherando (18-2) jumped on Skyline (9-13) starter Joe Bass early, tagging the senior for four runs in the bottom of the first inning.
Bass issued back-to-back walks to Taylor Loudan and Porter to open the frame, and Bass was forced to intentionally walk cleanup batter Tyler Quinn to load the bases with one out with the sophomore Smallwood coming to the plate. Bass got ahead of Smallwood, 0-1, before Smallwood slapped a curveball into the right-center field gap for a two-run single.
Quinn, who moved to third on Smallwood's single, scored on a passed ball in the next at-bat, and John Bentley, running for Smallwood, crossed the plate later in the inning when he advanced home on the throw to second base as Logan Bucher stole second with two outs.
"When we start off like that, I knew we were going to have a good hitting game," Porter said. "When we come out and hit like that, it just gives all confidence to go out in the field and make plays."
Sherando struck again in the bottom of the third inning when Smallwood (2-for-2, home run, three RBIs, walk) drew a two-out walk and came around to score on a triple off the fence in left-center by Reid Entsminger.
Bucher then pulled a double down the left-field line to score Entsminger and give Sherando a 6-0 lead.
"Jumping out to the 4-0 lead -- we sat on it a little while, but then we started to add a run here and two runs there," said Warriors coach Pepper Martin. "We ran the bases well, we had some key hits -- and [Porter] was tough to beat."
While Porter was still picking his way through the Skyline lineup with relative ease on the mound, Smallwood put the exclamation point on the Warriors' offensive display when he yanked a 1-2 breaking ball by Hawks reliever Sterling Jennings over the left-field fence for his first career home run in the bottom of the fifth.
Smallwood said he made a small adjustment at the plate in Saturday's game that allowed him to take advantage of a few missed spots by the Skyline pitchers.
"I got up closer to the plate. Joe Bass threw me a hanging curveball that kind of broke in towards the middle of the plate [in the first at-bat]," said Smallwood. "Then Sterling Jennings, I figured he was going to throw me a curveball because I've known him forever. We both know what we can do."
Jennings pitched two innings of relief for the Hawks, allowing one run on two hits. He struck out one and walked one.
Bass tossed the first four innings for Skyline before giving way to Jennings, and the senior allowed six runs, four earned, on five hits, walked four and struck out one.
Skyline, who didn't have a runner reach second base the entire game, tried desperately to find some kind of offensive spark by utilizing some small ball, but Sherando denied any such success. Smallwood caught two Hawks runners attempting to steal on the afternoon, including Skyline freshman Jacob Sims trying to take second to end the game.
"Whenever you get into a hole against a good team, it's hard to come out of," said Hawks coach Ben Taylor. "I think [the Warriors] were ready to go from the start. I didn't expect anything less than them coming out and playing the way they did."