By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- There's just something about the playoffs that brings out the best in Sherando senior Reid Entsminger.
When the regular season ends and the proverbial "second season" begins, he wants to be the guy who makes the play, the one who becomes the centerpiece of that defining, game-changing moment.
It's been that way for Entsminger over the last few years of his high school career at Sherando, and he flashed that rare trait one final time for the Warriors' baseball team this past spring. When the time came, Entsminger put the Warriors -- who were self-proclaimed underdogs this season -- on his shoulders and carried them all the way back to the state tournament for the second straight season.
"I'm one of those guys where I don't like to lose, and when it counts I want to prove that I'm the best player on the field," Entsminger said on Monday. "I want to be the best player. I want people to remember my name for a while. ... I go 100 percent through the regular season, but something about the playoffs, you know, it's your last time playing. Especially with it being my senior year, this is going to be my last time playing baseball ever again, so I just wanted to go out with a bang. I just played nice and loose and had fun with it."
Entsminger, who played a crucial role in Sherando's run to a Group AA state championship last season, was one of just four returning starters for the Warriors this spring and seemed determined to put his team in position to repeat that feat in the new Group 4A classification this spring.
Entsminger, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2014 Baseball Player of the Year for the second straight year, was efficient at the plate all season in the cleanup spot for the Warriors, as he batted .408 with four home runs, nine doubles, three triples, 24 RBIs, 26 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. But it was in the playoffs when the Warriors felt the true impact of Entsminger's bat.
In seven playoff games this spring, Entsminger batted .400 with three homers, three doubles, a triple, seven RBIs and eight runs scored before the Warriors finally fell to eventual state champion Hanover, 6-2, in the Group 4A state semifinals on June 13 at Liberty University.
"I don't know what's been up with me lately. In the playoffs I tend to just kick it to another gear and just play at a different level," said Entsminger, who was also the starting quarterback and safety on Sherando's state runner-up football team in the fall. "I think it's just like the hype of the moment and just living in the moment, and just trying to win the game because it could be your last."
Entsminger ensured the Warriors wouldn't be making an early postseason exit this spring.
In the Conference 21 quarterfinals against Woodgrove, the senior went 2-for-3 with a three-run home run in Sherando's 6-0 win. Entsminger hit another home run in the Warriors' 4-3 win over Heritage (Leesburg) in the conference semifinals, and he was 2-for-3 with a double and a run scored in a 5-4 loss to Millbrook in the conference championship game on May 29.
The senior delivered one of his biggest hits of the playoffs in the Region 4A North semifinals, as his walk-off triple gave Sherando a 2-1 win over Louisa County and qualified the Warriors for the state tournament.
"It seemed like Reid, throughout the playoffs, was the hitter coming up in a pressure situation where the game was on the line, and more often than not he came through for us," Warriors coach Pepper Martin said. "Had it not been for the performance that he had offensively, we would've been packing up the gear early in the playoffs."
Martin said that Entsminger -- who hit his third homer of the playoffs in a loss to Millbrook in the regional championship -- exudes a strong sense of self-confidence, which allows him to be successful in pressure situations.
"The thing about him is he's so talented, but when you describe that young man, never once does the word 'cockiness' or 'arrogance' come into the sentence. He's about as far from that as you can get. But by the same token, he brims with confidence," said Martin, who has coached the Warriors for 21 seasons. "He believes in his ability and he thrives in those situations. He wants to have the opportunity to be the one to get it done, for not only himself, but his teammates."
"Through my entire coaching career, he has to be one of the most clutch players that I've ever coached," Martin added.
Entsminger, a solid center fielder with a knack for chasing down any ball hit in his vicinity, also entered the 2014 season as the Warriors' undisputed No. 1 starting pitcher. His role on the mound this season took a huge hit, however, when he developed a bad case of tendonitis in his right elbow in the season-opening loss to Broadway, which forced him to abandon his customary pitching duties for most of the season. Entsminger, who was 8-0 with a 0.53 ERA on the mound for Sherando in 2013, suddenly had to focus on maximizing his impact in other ways.
"I knew I had to be a key hitter for the team this year and make plays in the outfield," said Entsminger, who made two brief appearances on the mound in the playoffs and allowed a run on two hits and four walks in 2 2/3 innings. "I think I did that. I think I hit pretty well this year. Everyone could always count on me. That's what I wanted, people don't have to worry. I would get up to bat and I just wanted to hit for everybody. That was my job. I couldn't pitch, so I was going to hit and be the best hitter on the team."
Entsminger will play college football in the fall for Lamar University, a Division I Football Championship Subdivision school located in Beaumont, Texas, and he doesn't currently plan to continue his baseball career. But he wouldn't rule out walking on to the Cardinals' baseball team if he feels up to it next spring.
"I don't think I can just leave baseball behind," Entsminger said.
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or firstname.lastname@example.org