By Jeff Nations
Winchester Post 21 baseball coach Steve Smallwood opened the season earlier this week with a decidedly short bench, missing five players he's counting on to help the squad advance to the state tournament this year.
Smallwood really didn't mind, though, and he's more than willing -- he's hoping -- that will be a problem the next time Winchester takes the field on Sunday. Those missing five -- all playing for Sherando's Group AA state tournament semifinalists -- could be back Sunday for a doubleheader at Stafford Post 290. Sherando would have to lose to Amherst in Saturday's state semifinals at Calfee Park in Pulaski for that to happen.
"I want to see Sherando go as far as they can go," said Smallwood, whose son, Chase, is one of the five Sherando players missing from Post 21's roster right now. "They're in the final four. That's a big plus, and we're proud of all the guys."
Post 21 did fine without that quintet in Monday's season-opening 7-6 victory over Funkstown Post 211, a reflection on the team's depth this season. Smallwood, now in his sixth season coaching the senior-level team, said this year's turnout was the best he's had. Winchester had 29 players try out for the senior squad and 38 went out for the junior team (age 17 and under). Smallwood could only keep 18 for each squad in accordance with American Legion rules.
Among the group of seniors is a pair of college players, Shenandoah's Darrell Thompson and Potomac State's Ethan Emmart, who returned for one final season with Post 21. Thompson, a former standout at Sherando, is coming off a busy freshman season. He pitched in 12 games for the Hornets (nine starts) and led the team in innings pitched with 45 2/3 during the spring. Emmart, who played at Clarke County, helped Potomac State post a 40-16 record in the spring. Emmart, a right-hander, pitched in just three games for the Catamounts.
Both will pitch for Winchester, but are hardly the only options Post 21 will have this season. First-team all-Region II pitcher John Bentley and second-team all-Region II selection Reid Entsminger -- the Northwestern District's Player of the Year -- are two more Warriors who'll soon join the squad along with teammates Chase Smallwood, Jacob Carney and Justin Angel.
James Wood's Addison Barber, who's planning to play baseball at Old Dominion as a preferred walk-on, is another solid arm.
Chase Smallwood, a first-team all-Region II pick at catcher, led the area in batting this season and will share time behind the plate with James Wood's Daniel Malsch when he's not pitching. Carney (second base), Angel (first base) and Entsminger (outfielder) also earned first-team All-Region II honors this season, while Handley shortstop Jacob Rudolph was a second-team all-region selection.
Former Handley standout Cody Unger, who now attends Middleburg Academy, adds another solid bat to the lineup. Unger is set to join Carney on Shepherd's baseball team next year. Sherando's Taylor Loudan, the final member of that strong group, plans to split time between football and baseball at Christopher Newport. Other college-bound players bolstering Post 21's roster include Millbrook's Daniel Nawrocki (Shenandoah) and Handley's Rudolph (Mary Washington).
"I think it's one of the most solid teams we've had in a while," Steve Smallwood said. "We've got a lot of games to play. It's a long season, and we finished second in [District 16] last year. We were one win away from making the state tournament, and we're hoping to get there this year."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>