By Jeff Nations
STEPHENS CITY -- Chase Smallwood will be seeing a few familiar faces when he heads off to college next fall.
Smallwood, who accepted a partial athletic scholarship this week to play collegiate baseball at NCAA Division II Shepherd University, is slated to join former Sherando teammates Jacob Carney and John Bentley -- both entering their freshman seasons for the Rams -- and will be playing for a coach he's known for most of his life in Shepherd's Matt McCarty.
"Coach McCarty, I've known him forever," Smallwood said. "He played baseball with my older brother here at Sherando. It had a little bit to do with it, but it didn't have too much of an effect. I liked the school and the scholarship they gave me. It's going to help throughout the years."
Smallwood is the latest Sherando player headed north to play at the West Virginia college. McCarty, a 2005 graduate, was a star pitcher/shortstop for the Rams in his playing days and landed the head coaching position on an interim basis last year before being named the permanent coach in July after leading the team to a 28-20 overall mark and 21-10 in the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Shepherd will enter its first season in the newly-formed Mountain East Conference this coming season.
Sherando coach Pepper Martin said that although his program has seen numerous players end up at Shepherd, the trio of Carney, Bentley and now Smallwood are the first to be actively recruited by the school.
"Through the years, we've had difficulty getting colleges -- representatives, recruiters from colleges particularly at the Division I level -- to come to this area to check out the baseball talent," Martin said. "We've sent schedules, made phone calls, emails, letters and still we haven't received much response through the years for whatever reason. With Shepherd and Matt in particular being there, it's a different story."
Martin said McCarty personally scouted several of Sherando's games last year, and hopes that Smallwood won't be the last Warrior to end up playing for the Rams.
"I think it'll be fun," Smallwood said. "I actually talked to Jacob the other night, and he just sounded ecstatic about it. He was so excited. It's going to be fun playing with them."
Last season, Smallwood played a starring role in Sherando's Group AA state baseball championship. The Warriors' starting catcher, Smallwood delivered steady, stellar defensive play and also swung a dangerous bat. Smallwood hit .438 with four home runs and a team-best 34 RBIs as he earned first-team all-state honors.
"He's a combination of average and power," Martin said. "He's an extremely good defensive player, throws well. Last year, he pure and simple shut down the running game in games he played. Some teams tried to run on him, he'd throw them out stealing. Some of them weren't too smart and tried it two or three times, and he'd throw them out two or three times."
Smallwood has been Sherando's starting catcher since midway through his freshman year, and will be behind the plate again this season as the Warriors sustain their momentum.
Martin said Smallwood will pitch more this season, as well, with the Warriors looking to fill holes left by five graduated starters off last year's team. The development of backup catcher Connor Stevenson last year gave Martin confidence that he can use Smallwood as a pitcher even more this season.
"Our defense relies on him so much it's probably [affected] his progress as a pitcher -- not probably, it has," Martin said. "His sophomore year, we just did not have a viable backup and without him being behind the plate, it was a big liability defensively."
Smallwood, who gave up playing other sports to focus solely on baseball this season, is expecting another strong year for the Warriors.
"I expect us to do well again this year," Smallwood said. "We're going to win another district, I feel like."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>