By Tommy Keeler Jr.
LEESBURG -- It's a new year, but Sherando's baseball team showed on Wednesday they still have some of last year's playoff magic left in them.
The defending Group AA state champions rallied for a 4-3 Conference 21 semifinal victory over Heritage. The win clinches a Region 4A North berth for the Warriors, who will play at Millbrook tonight at 6 p.m. in the conference final.
"It's nice to see we have fight in us and we're not going to let ourselves down. We just want to keep playing," Sherando senior Reid Entsminger said. "At the beginning of the season we were slow. I wasn't too sure about anything, but lately we've picked it up. A lot like last year's team, if we keep it going I don't see any reason why we shouldn't go far."
The Warriors (14-5) trailed 2-1 going into the sixth inning. In the top of the sixth, Sherando junior Adam Whitacre led off with a triple to the right-field corner off Heritage pitcher Zach Hopeck.
Whitacre said he learned from his previous at-bats.
"I knew that I had to get my foot down early, because he blew one past me on the inside corner earlier in the game, and I knew he was going to try it again," Whitacre said. "He tried to, and I just got my foot down and tried to hit the middle part of the bat. If I was as big as Reid [Entsminger] I might have put it out of the park."
Zach Henke then followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 2-2. Sherando then used aggressive base running to score its final two runs.
With two outs in the sixth, Entsminger drew a walk and went to second on a passed ball. Hayden Fox reached on an infield single and Entsminger was able to score on the play to give Sherando a 3-2 edge.
"[Sherando] coach [Pepper] Martin said to 'keep going, keep going,'" Entsminger said of the play. "I thought he was out at first, so I kind of slowed down halfway down the line The next thing I know, I saw he was safe. So, I was like 'oh I better start running faster, I'm stuck in no-man's land right now.' Luckily, I got there fast enough and got that go-ahead run."
The Pride were able to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth. Whitacre walked Tyler Richards and Brandon Keiper to start the inning. With one out, Sherando's Chase Smallwood came in to relieve Whitacre with runners on second and third. A sacrifice fly by Carsten Wahl tied the game at 3-3.
The Warriors came right back in the top of the seventh. With one out, Andrew Loudan singled. An out later, Whitacre drew a walk from Hopeck. Henke then hit a sharp ground ball which Heritage's shortstop couldn't handle and Loudan was able come around from second to score the wiunning run.
"Coach Martin just told me to wheel around and I just put my head down and started running hard," Loudan said. "Honestly, I still don't know what happened at shortstop. He just told me to go."
Heritage scored in the bottom of the third on a Sherando error. Entsminger tied the game in the top of the fourth with a solo home run.
The Pride answered back in the bottom of the fourth on a bloop single by Smith, which was the first of the game for Heritage.
Hopeck has signed a letter of intent to play for Coastal Carolina University next year, and looked dominant early in the game. He finished with seven strikeouts, but none after the fourth inning.
Whitacre, who only allowed three hits in 5.1 innings of work, said he enjoyed going up against Hopeck.
"I knew he going to Coastal before the game started, and I thought that was a pretty neat experience to go one on one with him and everything. It was fun," Whitacre said.
The Warriors will now play Millbrook, a team they have lost to three times this season, for the conference title. Sherando has won five games in a row.
Martin said the team is coming together and is starting to show some similarities to last year's squad.
"The mental approach to the game, the enthusiasm, their hunger, their hustle, their buying into the team concept has been very inconsistent this year and now all of those things are falling into place," Martin said. "Our mental preparation, the way we picked each other up and cheered for one another, sacrificing an at-bat to move a runner up, the little things, unselfishness -- it's starting to come together.
"I can't help but give a little bit of credit for that to some of the success that we had last year."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd