By Tommy Keeler Jr.
LYNCHBURG -- Sherando had a tough task on Friday when it played Hanover, the defending Group AAA state champions, in the Group 4A state semifinals. The Warriors, the defending Group AA state champions, battled throughout the game, but still saw their season come up a little short.
The Hawks used the short game to pull out a 6-2 baseball victory over the Warriors at Liberty Stadium.
"I was really proud of our team," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said. "The way they approached this game, they weren't in awe at all of a team as talented as Hanover is. Our group of players firmly believed that they could win this game. I thought we competed extremely well."
The Hawks were able to score three runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull away. Hanover's John Gregory was hit by a pitch from Sherando starter Adam Whitacre to start the bottom of the sixth. Trevor Denton followed with a bunt single.
Eliott Sleed then followed with a bunt, Whitacre threw to third, but Gregory beat the throw and tag to load the bases with no outs.
Anthony Zona then hit a sacrifice fly to give the Hawks a 4-2 lead.
"That's our game," Hanover coach Charlie Dragum said. "We have to run, we have to bunt. That's what we do."
Whitacre was then relieved by Ty Michaud. Jakob Pridemore then laid down another bunt, and the Warriors had Denton in a rundown and he was originally called out. However, after an argument from Dragum the umpire called interference on Michaud, allowing the run to score. Third baseman Hayden Fox applied the tag, but the umpire ruled that Michaud touched Denton as he was headed to home plate.
"That was huge. That was big," Dragum said.
Martin said he felt that Denton ran into Michaud instead of the other way around, but that it didn't affect the outcome of the game.
With two outs, Michaud walked Josh Shepherd to load the bases. The Hawks stretched the lead to 6-2 after Cayman Richardson was hit by a pitch.
The Hawks scored the first run of the game in the bottom of the third. With one out, Hanover's Brady Didlake hit into a fielder's choice. He moved to second on a passed ball. Shepherd followed with a single. With runners at first and third, Shepherd attempted to steal and would have been thrown out, but he stumbled and started back to first. Didlake then took off and stole home, while Shepherd was able to make it back to first safely.
In the bottom of the fourth, Richardson reached on an error and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Troy Szalay. Gregory drew a walk from Whitacre, and Denton and Sleed followed with back-to-back singles for a 3-0 lead.
"I felt like if we had some quality at-bats and put guys on base, we would [win]," Dragum said. "I thought we did that for the most part."
The Warriors responded with two runs in the top of the fifth.
With one out, Zach Henke and Chase Smallwood had back-to-back singles off Hanover sophomore starter Greg Lyttle. Hanover's Hayden Moore, the Hawks' sophomore closer, came on to relieve Lyttle. Reid Entsminger hit into a fielder's choice as they retired Henke at third.
Sherando's Connor Stevenson then drew a walk to load the bases. Fox followed with a two-run single to cut the lead to 3-2.
"I knew I had to come up in the clutch," Fox said. "I knew I had to get a hit, so i could score some runs for my team and help us win the game."
Hanover was led by three hits from Denton, who has committed to play at Virginia Military Institute next year. Denton is one of three Division I signees on the team. The other two are Hanover pitching ace Derek Casey and Richardson. Both are committed to the University of Virginia, but Richardson is only a sophomore.
The Hawks (20-2) will play Millbrook today at noon for the state title, and Dragum said Casey will start.
Sherando (16-8) was led by Smallwood, who had two hits and a walk. Sherando left eight runners on base.
"We fought hard, we just couldn't get the hits when we needed them," Entsminger said. "We left a bunch of guys on base, and you can't do that against a team like this. They executed. They got timely hitting when they needed it and we didn't."
The Warriors lost a lot from last year's team, and despite the loss Friday they were very pleased with the season they had.
"Nobody thought we would be here. We weren't supposed to be here. Everybody thought it would be Woodgrove," Smallwood said. "Basically from that first game of regionals on it was a success for us. We played well today. Defending triple-A state champions -- they're a very good team."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or firstname.lastname@example.org Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd