By Brad Fauber
FRONT ROYAL -- Sherando baseball coach Pepper Martin said junior pitcher Ty Michaud has been a "pleasant surprise" on the mound for the Warriors this season, and the right-hander came through yet again against Skyline on Friday at Bing Crosby Stadium.
Michaud pitched a complete game for Sherando, and it was his performance that Martin said made the difference for the Warriors in their 4-3 Northwestern District win over the Hawks.
"Ty Michaud is a competitor. He really is. He's been a pleasant surprise for us this season," Martin said. "... To be honest with you, had he not given the pitching performance that he gave tonight, we may have been in danger of losing this game."
Sherando's (9-4, 5-3 Northwestern) offense was held in check for most of the game by solid joint effort on the mound by four different Skyline pitchers, but Michaud was able to ensure that the Warriors remained within striking distance after falling into an early deficit.
He allowed just the three runs (all earned) on six hits and two walks while also striking out four.
"I was mixing in the slider. The curve wasn't really working, but just being able to locate it tonight was probably the big key," said Michaud, who improved to 4-1 on the mound this season. "The slider's been pretty good. That's probably like my second best [pitch] after my fastball."
The Warriors got out to an early lead against Skyline (6-10, 1-7) starting pitcher Tyler Ritenour in the top of the first as senior Zach Henke singled with one out and later scored on a fielder's choice by Andrew Loudan. But Ritenour stranded the bases loaded to escape further damage.
Ritenour, making his first start of the season, went four innings and allowed just the one run on two hits and three walks. He struck out three.
"Tyler Ritenour went out there and gave a great effort. That's the most innings he's logged for us all year," Hawks coach Jay Barnes said.
Skyline struck back with two runs in the bottom of the second inning to take a 2-1 lead. Designated hitter Robbie Belanger led off the inning with a single and immediately moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Jerrius Baltimore. Michaud got a strikeout for the inning's second out, but ninth hitter Marcus Burke (2-for-3, double) singled to extend the inning.
Belanger scored from third on a double steal, and leadoff man Robert Presley (2-for-4, double) doubled to left field to score Burke.
"They played a great game. I think that's probably the best baseball game that we've played all year just from a standpoint of making plays, and making plays when we needed to," Barnes said. "It just turned out that Sherando made a few more plays than we did."
That lead held up until the top of the fifth inning, when Sherando tagged Hawks reliever Tyler Johnson for a run on a two-out bloop single by pinch hitter Marcus Painter with the bases loaded.
The Warriors had just six hits in the win, though they did work five walks.
"Not taking anything away from [Skyline], but we played extremely flat today," Martin said. "There's no reason for us to -- we're a team still searching for an identity, and we're not that good yet. We can't approach games like we don't have to give 100 percent effort to win."
Sherando regained the lead with two more runs in the top of the sixth inning. Pinch hitter Hayden Fox led off the inning with a walk against Skyline reliever Joe Pingley and scored one out later on a triple to right center by junior Adam Whitacre. Henke (2-for-3, two runs) added an insurance run with a sacrifice fly to center.
"We've been doing pretty consistent all year, so I knew we would come around," Michaud said.
Skyline rallied in the bottom of the seventh, as Burke led off with a double, moved to third on a fly out and scored on a sacrifice fly by Sterling Jennings. But Michaud got a groundout to end the game.
The Hawks got the leadoff man on in five different innings.
"That was our goal, get the leadoff guy on, move him up and get him in," Barnes said. "... I felt like guys felt like they had a chance, and they went really hard and went after it."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD