By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Sherando's baseball team has been waiting all season to put it all together on the diamond. The Warriors picked the perfect time to do so against visiting Woodgrove in the Conference 21 tournament quarterfinals on Friday night.
Sherando displayed it all against the Wolverines -- clutch hitting, shutdown pitching, smart baserunning and even a few crucial defensive plays. The result was a 6-0 win over Woodgrove that advances the Warriors to the conference semifinal round next Tuesday against Heritage High School in Leesburg.
"Today we showed the way we are capable of playing. We haven't showed this type of team all year," Warriors senior center fielder Reid Entsminger said. "I was surprised how well we played, how well we hit the ball and our mental approach to the game. It just showed that we can play with the best."
Playing Woodgrove for the first time since beating the Wolverines in last year's Region II championship, Sherando (13-5) got the lead early against the Wolverines (14-7) on Friday behind two timely hits from junior first baseman Connor Stevenson in the first and third innings.
The Warriors rallied for a run with two outs in the bottom of the first, as catcher Chase Smallwood (2-for-3, three runs) singled, Entsminger doubled and Hayden Fox was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Stevenson.
Stevenson then pulled a 2-2 offering from Wolverines starting pitcher Austin Rader down the third-base line, where the ball deflected off the glove of diving third baseman Matt Wright for an RBI single.
"Coach [Pepper] Martin just says look for the fastball and adjust, and hit the ball where it's pitched. I happened to do that today," said Stevenson, who was 3-for-3 with three RBIs.
Stevenson delivered again with two outs in the third inning. Smallwood and Entsminger reached base via a walk and an error, respectively, and Martin opted to give up the second out of the inning with a sacrifice bunt by Fox to put both runners in scoring position for Stevenson.
The junior took advantage with a base hit on a groundball through the hole on the right side of the infield to plate two more runs and give Sherando a 3-0 lead.
"It always feels good to execute something that your coach wanted you to. For him to put that faith in me feels good," Stevenson said.
The early run support was plenty for Warriors starting pitcher Adam Whitacre, who allowed just two hits in 6 1/3 innings. Whitacre also struck out three and walked four.
"My changeup was working pretty good, and my curveball was working pretty good," said Whitacre, who improved to 4-1 with the win. "[Pitching] coach [Craig Bodenschatz] had the scouting report and really they're a pull-ball hitting team, so we just tried to live on the outside. It worked well for us."
Entsminger delivered the final blow with a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Zach Henke opened the inning by drawing a leadoff walk that ended Rader's day on the mound for Woodgrove. Senior Matt Jeffery came on in relief for the Wolverines and immediately surrendered a single to Smallwood that put runners on the corners.
After repeated failed attempts to pick off Smallwood at first base, Jeffery got into a 3-2 count against Entsminger, who then skied the seventh pitch of the at-bat deep to right field. The ball kept carrying and snuck just inside the foul pole in right field for a home run.
It was Entsminger's second homer of the season.
"I thought it was going to be a deep fly ball to right field or right center, and then I looked up and it was near the foul pole. I was like, 'Wow, the wind really took that one,'" said Entsminger, who was 2-for-3 with two runs scored and three RBIs. "I lucked out on that one. I just got all of it and let the wind take it."
Woodgrove mustered its most serious scoring threat in the top of the sixth inning, as the Wolverines loaded the bases with two outs following a one-out double by Dillon Serley, a two-out walk and a Sherando error.
But Smallwood picked off Woodgrove's Colin Reid at first base to end the threat.
Smallwood picked off two runners from behind the plate in the game, the other coming in the second inning to negate a two-out hit by Will Hoffer.
"It's gotten to the point where we're not even surprised anymore when Chase makes plays like he did tonight," Martin said. "He's the main reason why our pitching staff has had the success it's had this year. ... He does a great job of not only handling the pitchers, but completely shutting down the running game of the opponent. They didn't try to steal a base tonight, yet he picked off two runners."
Whitacre returned to the mound in the top of the seventh, but he dealt a leadoff walk to Matt Gilson and induced a groundout by Austin Taylor before he was removed in favor of Ty Michaud, who tallied the game's final two outs.
"We did a nice job of putting all four phases of the game together," Martin said. "Our defense was solid, although we did have a couple errors that ran Adam's pitch count up a little bit. We ran the bases smartly and aggressively, and we got key hits tonight. That's always important."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @BradFauberNVD