By Jeff Nations
CULPEPER -- The way Sherando High School senior starting pitcher Adam Whitacre was dealing on Monday against host Eastern View, it was soon apparent he wouldn't need much support.
The Warriors gave him the barest of minimums, managing just one hit and one run against Eastern View's David Laird. It was enough, as Whitacre held down the Cyclones for seven scoreless innings to lead Sherando to the 1-0 victory in the 4A North Region tournament quarterfinals. Sherando (15-5) will host Louisa in Wednesday's regional semifinals. Game time is noon in Stephens City.
"He has had quite a playoff run," Sherando coach Pepper Martin said of Whitacre. "He has been at the top of his game. All three of his pitches have been working well, but I think what's made him even more successful is he's been able to locate his pitches pretty much where [Sherando catcher] Chase [Smallwood] sets the glove up."
Whitacre credited Smallwood with calling a great game, but that was just a small part of what the Warriors all-state catcher did on Monday. Smallwood had Sherando's lone hit, a fourth-inning double, and scored the Warriors' lone run by swiping home on a double steal in the fourth. Smallwood also gunned down two would-be Cyclones base stealers to snuff out potential rallies. All in all, it was a solid day at the ballpark for the Shepherd University signee.
"It's not too often you get a pitcher throw a one-hitter and you lose," Eastern View coach Danny Nobbs said ruefully afterward.
Laird, the Cyclones' sophomore left-hander, more than matched Whitacre through the first three innings, retiring the first 10 Sherando batters before finally allowing a base runner by walking Zach Henke with one out. Smallwood followed with the Warriors' first hit, a long double that short-hopped to the fence to put runners on second and third.
"I've been in a slump all year, haven't really been myself," Smallwood said. "I made one adjustment to my swing. I just spread my feet a little bit more, hit a ball almost to the fence. I hit the ball hard three times, so I'm very pleased with what I did today.
Eastern View (15-6) caught a break immediately after that when Sherando's Reid Entsminger hit a sharp ground ball to shortstop Nate Yates, who alertly fired the ball home to easily catch Henke trying to score.
With runners at the corners, Entsminger took off for second on a steal attempt and drew a throw. Smallwood, watching from third, dashed home to complete the successful double steal and put his team up 1-0.
"He reads it, and if it clears the pitcher's head and they're not bringing the second baseman up to cut -- they're letting it go all the way to the bag -- we're going," Martin said. "Chase broke and the throw short-hopped the middle infielder."
Smallwood never hesitated in breaking for home on the play.
"I knew the catcher didn't have much of an arm," Smallwood said. "I saw him throw it, and I said, 'I'm going.' I'll take that chance. I'm going to get that run."
The Cyclones threatened in the bottom of the fourth. Austin Huff ripped a leadoff double to center and Stuart Paz singled to put runners at the corners with no outs. Smallwood got one by gunning down courtesy runner Zach Plath on a steal attempt at second, and after Whitacre hit a batter to put runners on the corners again he escaped the jam unscathed by starting a 1-3 double play by snaring A.J. Steed's liner up the middle.
"Coach [Craig Bodenschatz] had a great scouting report," Smallwood said. "He said they love to run, and I love teams that love to run. It gives me a chance to actually throw somebody out as a catcher. That's the best part about baseball, being a catcher, is you get to throw somebody out. It feels like you actually did something at the end of the day."
After the fourth, the Cyclones' Laird allowed only one more base runner the rest of the way on a two-out walk to Andrew Loudon in the fifth. He took the loss despite only allowing one earned run on one hit and two walks while striking out two.
"For a sophomore, I was pretty proud of him," Nobbs said. "In a regional game, the pressure wasn't too big for him and he pretty much lived the philosophy that we've been going by and that's control the controllables."
"Coach [Craig] Bodenschatz and I got a really nice scout on them Friday," Martin said. "Chancellor started a right-hander against them and he ran into some trouble, and they brought in a left-hander and we were able to see how they had a little bit of trouble with the off-speed stuff from that left-hander."
Whitacre worked a bit harder, allowing seven hits and two hit batsmen. But he always found a way to wriggle out of trouble. Whitacre finished with seven strikeouts.
"Our defense just made plays behind me," Whitacre said. "We knew that they were a great hitting team and that they were going to put the ball in play. I just said you defensive guys have to have my back, and they did today."
In the bottom of the seventh, the Cyclones mounted one last challenge when pinch hitter Cain Finkle was hit by a pitch on a 1-2 count. That brought up Eastern View leadoff hitter Nate Yates, who had already singled twice in three at bats against Whitacre. This time, Whitacre won the battle by inducing a fly ball to right field to end it.
"It's quite a surprise to win a regional game, with this level of competition, with only one hit," Martin said. "Now scoring one run -- you're going to have some pitchers' duels, but getting one-hit? We did hit some balls hard. Chase lined out to left, two or three of our guys hit really hard grounders that their shortstop just gobbled up to his left, but other than that you've got to tip your hat to their left-hander. He did a really nice job."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>