By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- There was a point in time when Sherando junior Reid Entsminger thought he was done playing baseball.
Discouraged by a poor batting average that dipped into the low .200s during his sophomore season -- a season he refers to as "probably the worst year of baseball I've ever had" -- Entsminger's plan this spring was to forget playing baseball and instead focus his energy on getting in the weight room to prepare for next football season.
It wasn't until shortly after Sherando's football season ended last fall that a few of Entsminger's teammates began to change his mind.
"I was close to not playing at all, but Taylor [Loudan] and John [Bentley] talked me into it," Entsminger said. "In the back of my mind, I didn't really want to stop playing baseball because I've played it my whole life, and it would have killed me too much, and my dad. My dad was a big factor, too. I didn't want to let him down."
So Entsminger decided against sitting out his junior season, and instead took baseball more serious than he ever had before, traveling to Loudoun County to visit a hitting instructor to work on his swing and vowing to his mother that he would earn the title of Northwestern District Player of the Year.
Looking back on it now, returning to the baseball field for his junior season was the best decision Entsminger could have made.
Entsminger was an integral part of Sherando's success this season, as his stellar performance on the mound, at the plate and in the field proved critical to the Warriors' first Group AA state championship in the program's history. And just as he had promised, he was named the district's player of the year, as well as first team all-Region II and second team all-Group AA.
It was a magical season for Entsminger and the rest of the Warriors, but one that he nearly missed out on.
"I'm beyond happy I came out and played. I definitely would have been bummed out if I was watching the state championship game from the stands," said Entsminger, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013 Baseball Player of the Year. "It's a good thing I did play, because this is probably the most fun I've had on any team."
You can bet Sherando coach Pepper Martin and the rest of the Warriors are just as happy with Entsminger's decision to return to the diamond.
The junior right-hander was nearly flawless on the mound, posting a perfect 8-0 record with a 0.53 ERA in 53 innings pitched. Entsminger allowed just four earned runs and 26 hits all season.
At the plate, Entsminger was just as effective, and he wiped away any lingering self-doubt about his ability at the plate by hitting .417 with two home runs, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs and 24 runs scored.
Oh, and he had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in 33 total chances in center field when he wasn't frustrating hitters on the mound.
Numbers like that are a baseball coach's dream, but for Martin, Entsminger's true impact extends far beyond all those gaudy statistics.
"Reid played a large role in the success of our team this year, not only by his performance, but by the way he carried himself on the field," Martin said. "He's an intense competitor and he's always calm, cool and collected on the field, which exudes a confidence in not only himself, but his teammates. And that can't help but be contagious. I think the other players picked up on his confidence level, and that makes him a true leader in that others can emulate what he does by the example he sets."
Look at any game that Sherando won this season (there were 26 of them), and you're certain to find an instance during the game in which Entsminger's impact was glaring, and the junior's play only seemed to elevate in the postseason.
In the Region II quarterfinal on May 28, Entsminger countered Loudoun Valley pitcher Danny White's nine innings of perfect baseball with nine shutout innings of his own. The Warriors would eventually win the game, 1-0, in 13 innings.
Two days later, Entsminger delivered a walk-off single in the bottom of the eighth inning against Powhatan in the regional semifinals give the Warriors a berth in the state tournament, and his grand slam in the regional championship game against Woodgrove helped Sherando win its first Region II title.
In the Group AA semifinals, Enstminger again delivered on the mound, throwing a complete game in Sherando's 4-2 win over Amherst County. The next day, Entsminger's triple in the second inning helped jump-start the Warriors in a 2-1 win over Tunstall for the state title.
"I was just playing baseball. I had no worries this year. I was just out there playing baseball, playing the game I love to play," Entsminger said. "I had a great year, and I can't ask for a better season. I was just having fun, that was the best thing about it."
As for next season, it's a pretty safe bet that Entsminger will return to the baseball diamond for his final year with Sherando. And he already has high expectations for himself and the rest of the Warriors.
"I'll definitely be back next year and hopefully top this performance I had this year," Entsminger said, "and hopefully win another state championship. That's the goal."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org