By Brad Fauber
With the regular season schedule out of the way and a Northwestern District regular season baseball title firmly in hand, Sherando can now turn its attention to the postseason.
The Warriors have been nearly flawless this season, the lone blemish being a 6-5 loss in the second game of a doubleheader against Spotswood late last month. Sherando has steamrolled through district play, going unbeaten in 12 district contests, and the Warriors certainly have no intention of easing up any time soon.
"Just because we're already district champions and qualified for a Region II berth, we certainly don't want to put on the brakes or take it out of gear," Warriors coach Pepper Martin said. "We want to keep the momentum going. So our second phase is to win the district tournament, and then from there the next phase will come."
Sherando has been a well-balanced team all season long, and a combination of stellar pitching, powerful hitting and solid defense -- particularly in the second half of the season -- has the Warriors primed to make a run deep into the postseason.
Martin said his team has been motivated by last season's early exit in the Region II tournament, and the Warriors appear determined to put that disappointment behind them this postseason. The first step toward redemption is to take care of business in the district tournament, where a championship will almost certainly guarantee Sherando the top seed in the region.
The Warriors will play the winner of Saturday's play-in game between No. 4 James Wood and fifth-seeded Handley next Monday in one of two semifinal matchups.
Third-seeded Skyline, which avoided the play-in game with a big win over James Wood on Tuesday, will play No. 2 Millbrook in the other semifinal.
Millbrook won all three regular season games against Skyline, but the Hawks have played the Pioneers tough this season, including in a 4-2 loss at Millbrook on Monday. Skyline is 2-2 over its last four games, and aside from Wednesday's 10-0 loss to Sherando, Hawks coach Ben Taylor has been encouraged by his team's level of play late in the season.
"At this point in the season you want to be playing your best baseball, and I think we've done that the last few games," Taylor said after Tuesday's win over James Wood.
Strasburg needed a little outside help, but the Rams have clinched the second seed in the Bull Run District tournament, which begins on Monday. Strasburg will host No. 7 Manassas Park.
The Rams dropped a pair of district games on the road earlier this month, but Strasburg rebounded with a road win over George Mason and a 16-1 thumping of rival Central at home on Tuesday to end the regular season and clinch at least a share of second place. Strasburg claimed the second seed outright when Central lost on the road at Manassas Park on Wednesday.
Central's loss dropped the Falcons to the third seed in the tournament, and they will host No. 6 George Mason on Monday.
The Falcons were flying high after huge back-to-back wins over Strasburg and district champion William Monroe earlier this month, but Central has struggled the last two games and has been outscored 25-2 in that span.
"It's almost like since we beat William Monroe we think we can just show up and get it done, and that's not been the case," Falcons coach Donn Foltz said. "We need to get back to the way we were playing before that game."
Stonewall Jackson will be the sixth seed in the Shenandoah District tournament and will travel to No. 3 East Rockingham today for a 6 p.m. contest.
The Generals have won two straight and three of their last four, and coach Mike Lenox said that Stonewall has steadily improved all season and that the team is excited about the upcoming opportunity in the tournament.
"A lot of our younger guys have stepped up and the older guys are feeding off what the younger guys are doing. They're starting to believe in what we're doing," Lenox said.
Warren County's final seeding in the Evergreen tournament has yet to be determined, but the Wildcats are guaranteed at least the No. 4 spot. The Wildcats still have to finish a suspended game against Fauquier today, and a win would give the Wildcats the No. 3 seed in the tournament, where they would likely play Kettle Run.
No matter where Warren County ends up in the district tournament, coach Vernon Mathews likes the Wildcats' chances.
"This is the year where the No. 4 seed could beat the No. 1 seed. Fauquier has beat [Liberty] ... and we played them tough [Monday]," Mathews said. "It's one of those years. Usually you have that dominant team and ... you figure [the No. 1 seed] is just going to take care of business -- that's not necessarily true anymore."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com