By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- It's been some week for Sherando's Reid Entsminger.
On Tuesday night, the Warriors' junior right-hander went toe-to-toe with Loudoun Valley ace Danny White, matching zero for zero through nine innings in a Region II quarterfinal game that was do-or-die. Thanks in no small part to Entsminger, the Warriors survived that 13-inning struggle when Chase Smallwood broke the deadlock with a walk-off solo home run.
Two days later, again facing elimination in another white-knuckle affair against two-time defending state champion Powhatan, Entsminger came through again. This time, Entsminger did it with his bat as he stoked a game-winning single to right field as the Warriors prevailed in eight innings.
So much drama -- frankly, Entsminger had his fill of it by Friday night's Region II championship game against Woodgrove. And when he had a chance to end that drama, Entsminger did just that --albeit, dramatically -- with a decisive fourth-inning grand slam to help the Warriors roll to a 9-4 victory and secure their first-ever regional championship.
"That's what we were hoping to do," Entsminger said. "We were sick and tired of those close games, going extra innings. We were all just getting tired. That's like 21 innings in two games. We just wanted to come out here and show who we really are in the regional championship."
Sherando (23-1) will host a Group AA state quarterfinal game on Tuesday, a nice bonus for winning that regional championship. But after surviving back-to-back elimination games that went extra innings, forgive the Warriors if they might have been a bit carefree about Friday's game.
Woodgrove (14-5) did its best to dispel that notion, jumping out to a 2-0 lead with single runs in the first and second innings. The Wolverines' Matt Jeffrey led off the game with a triple to right off Sherando starter Chase Smallwood, and later scored on Will Hoffer's RBI single. Brendan Whitfield, who had walked and moved to second on a groundout, tried to score on that same hit. Warriors left fielder Adam Whitacre wouldn't let him, firing a strike to waiting catcher Connor Stevenson at the plate for the inning-ending putout.
Justin Virts' RBI single in the top of the second put the Wolverines up by two runs, but the Warriors had an answer a John Bentley drove in a run with a triple and Justin Angel brought in another with an RBI groundout.
Then in the third, Sherando took the lead with some aggressive baserunning. Jacob Carney led off the inning with a double. One out later, Carney was on third and Entsminger was on first after drawing a walk. Woodgrove pitcher Brendan Whitfield snapped a pickoff throw to first to try and nab the speedy Entsminger, who was running. Entsminger drew a throw down to second, and Carney took off for home to pull off the delayed double steal. Bentley followed with single to plate Entsminger and put the Warriors up 4-2.
"The past two games, those were the greatest games of our lives," Entsminger said. "We knew after that, we could pull through anything. We got those two runs back in the second inning, tied it up at 2-2, and from then on just took the reins of the game."
In the fourth, Stevenson got the decisive rally going with a one-out double. Taylor Loudon followed with an infield hit and Whitacre beat out a bunt to load the bases against reliever Hank Biggs. The left-hander nearly got out of the jam by striking out Carney for the second out, but then forced in a run by walking Smallwood. That brought up Entsminger, who cleared the bases with a blast just to the left of the scoreboard in left field. It was Entsminger's second home run this season -- both grand slams.
"Fastball right down the middle," Entsminger said. "I mean, it was right in my sweet spot and I just happened to get a hold of it and took it over the wall."
Smallwood, making his first start in weeks, was glad to see another dramatic homer after delivering one of his own on Tuesday.
"We put up that five-spot and I was thrilled to death," Smallwood said. "It was 9-2 at the time, and I was like, 'Oh, we got this game.'"
The Wolverines scratched out another unearned run against Smallwood in the sixth, and tallied another unearned run in the seventh off Bentley in relief. It just wasn't enough.
"A couple mistakes here and there, some mental stuff that we usually are clean with gave a couple runs," Woodgrove coach Brad Bauder said. "They took the lead, then they took advantage with one swing of the bat that really extended it. That's a really good ballclub. We knew we had to play almost perfect baseball when we came out here, and for a while we did."
Sherando coach Pepper Martin said the Warriors set four goals heading into this season -- win the Northwestern District regular-season championship, win the district title, win a regional championship, and win a first-ever Group AA state championship.
That's three down, one to go.
"I'm really proud and very happy for the players," Martin said. "They earned this."
Sherando will host Region I runner-up Culpeper on Tuesday. Culpeper lost to Warhill, 11-0, in the Region I championship game.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>