By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- During practice this week, Sherando's players were as loose as ever -- joking around as they took bating practice and shagged balls in the field.
A casual observer would never know that the Warriors were preparing for the Group AA state baseball semifinals.
Sherando coach Pepper Martin doesn't mind his laid-back squad, because it's part of the reason for their success.
"This team doesn't push the panic button," Martin said. "If one person doesn't get the job done in a certain situation, they don't come into the dugout feeling sorry for themselves."
It certainly showed in the past week, when the Warriors persevered through some tough situations.
The Warriors pulled out a 13-inning, 1-0 victory over Loudoun Valley in the Region II quarterfinals. They followed that up with an eight-inning victory over defending Group AA state champion Powhatan. Both games ended with walk-off hits, the second of which came after the Warriors went down a run.
Sherando trailed early in the Region II finals against Woodgrove before pulling out a 9-4 victory. In the state quarterfinals on Tuesday, the Warriors trailed 2-1 and responded for a 5-3 win over Culpeper.
Amherst has had a little late-inning magic of its own. The undefeated Lancers rallied from a 7-0 deficit in the seventh inning, with eight runs for an 8-7 victory over Alleghany in the Region III final. In Tuesday's state quarterfinals, they trailed Bassett, 2-1, and scored two in the bottom of the seventh to win 3-2.
"They have the ability to come from behind as do we, so something's gotta give on [Saturday]," Martin said.
Sherando junior Reid Entsminger will get the start for the Warriors. Entsminger is 7-0 with a 0.31 ERA and one save on the season.
The pitching staff has been strong all season for the Warriors, and Martin said a lot of credit goes to the players and pitching coach Craig Bodenschatz.
"The pitchers have really answered the call," Martin said. "We graduated 17 of our 19 wins from last year. And to have the pitching staff perform how they did this year, that says a lot about the kids and it also says a lot about the job coach Bodenschatz does with his pitchers. If they get in a tight situation with runners on, they found a way to get out of it. Whether it be to rely on their defense to turn a double play like [Tuesday night] in the seventh. Or for them to make the pitch they need to make to strike out the batter and end the inning.
"It's not just the physical aspects of pitching. It's the mental aspects, the mentality and attitude of you're better than the person in the batter's box. And he's helped instill that in them."
Another big key for the Warriors has been their defense. Martin said due to the weather and being stuck inside, the Warriors struggled a little early in the season on defense, but they have been solid ever since.
Sherando senior second baseman Jacob Carney said he thinks defense has been a huge factor in the postseason.
"In the first regional game if we didn't play error-less baseball we would've probably given up a run," Carney said. "That kept us in the game until the 13th. Against Powhatan, we were one error away from being down three or four. I think our defense is really what makes everything happen."
The Warriors have also had success on offense all season, with everyone throughout the lineup contributing. Martin said the players have really bought into the team concept instead of worrying about how they're doing individually.
"If the top of the order had an off game or wasn't producing offensively, the bottom half of our order carried us through those games," Martin said. "And when the bottom fell off a little bit, the top came through for us."
Sherando has six seniors, and Carney said the group is really close and has stuck together all year.
The younger players are also motivated to help the seniors go out on top.
"They're all like brothers to me," Sherando junior Chase Smallwood said. "The whole team is like a brotherhood. We're like family. We all want to win for each other."
Sherando has now won 12 games in a row, but will certainly face another strong test on Saturday. Martin said the games the team has played in the last week will certainly help in Pulaski.
"We've certainly going through some battles, but now we want to win the war," Martin said.
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or email@example.com