Smallwood’s walk-off homer powers Warriors past Vikings

By Brad Fauber

STEPHENS CITY — It certainly wasn’t what Sherando had expected.

The Warriors, who entered Tuesday’s Region II baseball quarterfinal matchup with visiting Loudoun Valley with one of the most potent offenses in the area, suddenly found itself in an unfamiliar spot against the Vikings.

Held without a baserunner for the first nine innings of Tuesday’s extra-inning affair, the Warriors hardly looked like the team that had run roughshod over opponents throughout the season, and it was merely through an outstanding pitching and defensive effort on Tuesday that Sherando’s dreams of a deep playoff run remained afloat.

Junior Reid Entsminger and senior John Bentley combined to throw 13 shutout innings for Sherando, and Chase Smallwood finally dealt the decisive blow for the Warriors in the bottom of the 13th with a walk-off solo home run that gave Sherando a 1-0 win over Loudoun Valley.

“In the 31 years that I’ve coached high school baseball both as an assistant and as a head coach, if it’s not the most exciting game that I’ve ever coached in, it’s got to be in the top three,” Warriors coach Pepper Martin said. “It wasn’t the way we were accustomed to winning and it didn’t go as planned, but it had to unfold the way it did or our season might be over.”

With the win, Sherando advances to the regional semifinals on Thursday, where it will host Powhatan.

Sherando (21-1) managed literally nothing against Vikings ace Danny White, who pitched nine innings of perfect baseball before being required to exit the game due to the Virginia High School League’s innings limit.

White gave way to reliever Max Hughes in the bottom of the 10th inning, and Hughes dealt three scoreless innings of his own before giving up the home run to Smallwood to lead off the bottom of the 13th.

After Bentley stranded a pair of Loudoun Valley runners in the top of the inning to keep the game scoreless, Hughes fell behind in the count to Smallwood, 3-1, and came right at the powerful catcher with a breaking balll. The pitch sailed right over the heart of the plate, and Smallwood sent a screaming shot over the left-center field wall for the game-winning blast.

“I was thinking … it’s just another game, that’s it. I knew he was going to throw me a pitch down the middle, and he threw it and I saw it and I said, ‘OK, I’m taking this pitch,'” Smallwood said. “Right as soon as I hit it … I was just so relieved.

“I was just really astonished. It was like we battled for 13 innings and we walked it off that way. It couldn’t have gone any better.”

Smallwood’s homer capped an otherwise frustrating evening for both offenses, as Loudoun Valley (15-9) managed to put runners on base throughout the game but couldn’t get the key hit to drive across any runs. The Vikings left 14 runners on base in the game, including seven in scoring position.

Entsminger — who entered Tuesday allowing less than a half a run per nine innings — was once again stellar on the mound for Sherando. The junior went nine innings while allowing five hits, walking four and striking out eight, and was able to work around leadoff baserunners in four different innings.

“Without him we wouldn’t be here right now,” Smallwood said. “He pitched an amazing game, and John Bentley pitched an amazing game. I told them both, I said without them we wouldn’t be here right now.”

Bentley came on in relief in the 10th inning and allowed three hits while striking out six in his four innings of work for Sherando.

Hughes allowed all three of Sherando’s hits in his three-plus innings of work, including Sherando’s first hit of the night on a triple by Jacob Carney in the 10th. White struck out three in his perfect nine innings, as he relied on his fastball and a stellar Vikings defense behind him to keep the Warriors off the basepaths. White threw just 78 pitches in his outing.

“That was probably one of the best pitching performances I’ve ever seen, by both teams,” Vikings longtime coach Wayne Todd said. “Definitely by my kid — Danny White throws a perfect game for nine innings and we can’t scratch out a run. There’s something wrong there.

“Both teams played hard and everybody was just hoping for one swing of the bat, and that’s what they got.”

The extra-inning victory will come at a cost for Sherando, as Bentley was scheduled to pitch Thursday’s game but will now be unavailable to throw. Martin said he will most likely turn to left-handed sophomore Adam Whitacre to take the mound against Powhatan.

“That’s why we have a pitching staff. We have other pitchers and they need to step up and get the job done, and our defense needs to continue to play well behind them,” Martin said.

Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or bfauber@nvdaily.com