By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- As the Sherando players piled on top of Reid Entsminger in celebration, Chase Smallwood couldn't help but get emotional.
No one could blame Smallwood for tearing up after the Warriors pulled off their second consecutive walk-off win, this time a 5-4 eight-inning victory over Powhatan in the Region II semifinals on Thursday.
"I thought I was going to start crying out there. I was that emotional, excited," Smallwood said. "We're in the dog pile, I'm tearing up. 'We're going to states' I haven't said much except for that for the past 30 minutes now."
Just two days earlier the Warriors pulled out a 13-inning 1-0 win over Loudoun Valley, and going through that experience may have helped the team stay calm even as they were trailing by a run in the eighth.
It was almost a two-run deficit for Sherando. Powhatan's Zack Bartlett had a one-out single off Sherando reliever Taylor Loudan in the top of the eighth. One out later, Josh Markland followed with a single. Parker Mead then doubled to left to score Bartlett and Markland. However, Smallwood got some advice from the stands to appeal to the umpire that Markland hadn't touched home plate. After throwing to third, Markland was called out, to make the score 4-3.
"I was sitting there and I was looking back and my dad sits right behind home plate and he says 'hey, appeal third base he missed it,'" Smallwood said. "I heard him say check third he missed , so I thought 'Ok, why not.'"
In the bottom of the eighth, Adam Whitacre drew a one-out walk to Powhatan reliever Jamie Schaller. Jacob Carney then singled, and moved to second on a throw to third base, putting two runners in scoring position.
Chase Smallwood, who had the walk-off homer against Loudoun Valley, followed with a sacrifice fly to right field to tie the game at 4-4.
"Coming up to bat I wanted to do like I did Tuesday, but I was like 'hey, you gotta get one before two,'" Smallwood said. "I really thought 1-2 [count] he's going to throw me a curve ball this ball and I noticed it was fast ball coming and I was like 'oh, I gotta swing at this.'"
Entsminger then came through with a single to right field to score Carney and send the Warriors into the Group AA state tournament for the second time in school history.
"I was trying to be as calm as possible -- breathe in, breathe out -- and hit the ball anywhere," Entsminger said. "That's what I was trying to do, and that was as calm as I've been all season in an at-bat. I just hit the ball and focused a lot."
The game was back and forth throughout and filled with plenty of close calls. Powhatan, the two-time defending Group AA state champions, scored a run in the first on an RBI single by Tyler Allen, and added another run in the top of the fourth on an RBI single by Markland.
The Warriors (22-1) came back in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game up. Carney drew a walk by Powhatan starter Jacob Fontana. One out later, Entsminger singled and then Bentley followed with a double down the left-field line to cut the lead to 2-1. An RBI single by Justin Angel tied the game at 2-2.
The Indians responded with a run in the top of the fifth. Fontana led off with a single, and a sacrifice bunt moved him to second. Powhatan's Luke Scherzer then singled to give the Indians a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the fifth the Warriors responded. Loudan hit a one-out triple off Fontana, which brought Schaller in relief. Whitacre was hit by a pitch. A throwing error on at attempted pick off scored Loudan to tie the game.
Carney then grounded out, and Whitacre was thrown out on a delayed attempt to score. Whitacre beat the throw, but the umpire ruled he didn't touch home plate, and he was tagged out by Fontana.
The Indians (15-7) had a threat derailed in the top of the sixth as well. Powhatan's Carter Biringer and Mead each drew walks, and with one out Loudan came in to relive Whitacre. Loudan hasn't pitched much this season, but it didn't take many pitches to get out of the jam.
On the very first pitch, Fontana hit a grounder which forced Mead out at second, but a throwing error on the attempted double play appeared to give the Indians the lead. However, the umpire called runner's interference on Mead for going hard into second, ending the inning.
"It was nerve-wracking at first," Loudan said. "Getting out of that inning on just one pitch -- those two outs right there -- that was huge for my confidence. I settled down, and my defense played behind me. I had no worries after that. Offensively, they came in and picked me up after that top of the eighth."
Sherando will host Woodgrove today in the Region II finals at 7 p.m. The winner will host a game on Tuesday in the Group A satet quarterfinals, while the loser goes on the road.
With back-to-back walk-off wins, the Warriors are feeling confident.
"This team, we're a bunch of competitors. We don't like to lose," Entsminger said. "We're dogs, we'll fight to the end. All in all, this is the best team I've ever played on in my life -- love them to death."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com