Sherando claims first state crown
By Tommy Keeler Jr.
RADFORD -- The entire infield at Radford University was littered with red and white baseball caps and baseball gloves. There, just to the inside of the pitching mound, was the Sherando Warriors baseball team dogpiling in celebration of the program's first-ever state championship.
The dogpile was a little painful for some, but definitely worth it.
"It was hard to breathe on the bottom of that," Sherando pitcher John Bentley said after the team's 2-1 Group AA state final win over Tunstall. "It was really emotional to come out here and get this win. They're all my brothers. It's just so exciting."
"It hurt," Sherando senior Jacob Carney said of the dogpile. "I got a cleat in the leg from somebody. It was all worth it, getting this win tonight. It's all worth it for a dogpile like that."
Bentley and Carney each played a big part in the team's win over the Trojans.
Bentley threw a complete game, allowing only six hits while striking out seven. The senior retired the last nine batters he faced and finished the season with a perfect 10-0 record.
"I started off a little shaky, I had trouble hitting my spots," Bentley said. "I couldn't really get into a groove, but there towards the later innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh, I just felt good. I felt natural out there. We were calling good pitches. I was hitting my spots, and I had my defense behind me working."
Bentley also helped himself out in the bottom of the second.
Sherando's Reid Entsminger drilled a first-pitch fastball off Tunstall starter Luke Simpson into center field for a one-out triple. Bentley then followed with an RBI single to give the Warriors a 1-0 lead.
"They had the infield in, so all I thought was just a nice hard ground ball, just get it through there," Bentley said. "[Simpson] gave me a fastball right down the middle, so I just jumped right on it. I was afraid [Simpson] was going to snag it for a second, but then I saw it got past him. And I knew it was through there, and I was so excited."
Bentley got out of several jams early in the game. In the first inning with runners at the corners and one out, Sherando's Logan Bucher fielded a ground ball by Chris Buckner and threw out Daymon Totherow at home.
In both the top of the second and third innings, the Trojans had a combined three runners in scoring position, but couldn't get the run across.
The Trojans (23-2) rallied in the top of the fourth. Tunstall's Luke Kaesmeyer and Chase Scarce each singled to start the inning. A sacrifice bunt by Bryant Cook moved them to second and third. Totherow drew a walk to load the bases.
Bentley and the Warriors almost went unscathed, but couldn't turn the double play on a groundball by Gavin Payne. Instead Kaesmeyer scored to tie the game at 1-1. Bentley struck out Hunter Ashworth, and didn't allow another baserunner the rest of the way.
"John hung in there and then he got in a rhythm," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "He's just a strong old country boy. He got stronger as the game went on."
As the Warriors (26-1) have done throughout the postseason, they calmly responded whenever they needed to.
Sherando senior Taylor Loudan got things started with a one-out single. Loudan had struck out his first two at-bats, but got some help from Bentley and made an adjustment at the plate.
"John gave me the adjustment to lean up on the plate," Loudan said. "So I crowded the plate a little bit. I saw the ball better, and I felt a lot more comfortable. [Simpson] gave me a nice 3-2 pitch down the middle, and I just hit it to right field."
Martin then chose to have Adam Whitacre bunt, and put the game in the hands of Carney.
"I love all our hitters one through nine, but in that situation who better to have up with two outs, the go-ahead run on second, bottom of the sixth inning, than Jacob Carney?," Martin said. "He makes me look like a genius."
Carney, Sherando's all-time leader in career hits, delivered again. His RBI single gave the Warriors a 2-1 lead.
"I knew [Simpson] was going off-speed if he got ahead," Carney said. "I think it was 1-1 when he threw me that change-up. I was looking off-speed there and I guessed right."
Carney then made another big play as he fielded a ground ball by Ashworth and threw to Sherando first baseman Justin Angel for the final out.
The Warriors finished the season with a 14-game winning streak.
"It's just been an awesome year," Entsminger said. "Everyone on the team's been like my brother, and I'm going to remember it for the rest of my life. We'll cherish the memories for as long as we live."
Martin said he will definitely miss the six seniors -- Loudan, Whitacre, Angel, Bentley, Scottie Nicholson, Carney and Jeb Brown.
"I'm extremely proud of this group," Martin said. "Five of those six seniors have been with the program just two years. They're 45-4 -- that's leaving quite a legacy. And all six of them were an integral part of that. They're going to be hard to replace."
The seniors also got to graduate on the field at Calfee Park after Saturday's semifinal win over Amherst. Bentley said he couldn't have asked for anything more from his final high school season.
"We've worked so hard for this, and to come out here and get it done, it's just a great feeling," Bentley said. "It's a great way to end your high school career. Graduating on a baseball field, and then coming out the next day and winning a state title.
"That's the perfect ending to a high school career."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org