By Tommy Keeler Jr.
STEPHENS CITY -- When Reid Entsminger went down with tendonitis in his elbow at the start of the season, Sherando coach Pepper Martin knew junior Adam Whitacre would have to take over as the ace for the Warriors. Whitacre not only accepted the role, but has thrived in it for Sherando this season.
Whitacre has helped lead the defending Group AA state champion Warriors into the state semifinals for the second consecutive season.
"When [Entsminger] went down I just knew that I had to fight for the team," Whitacre said. "I knew I was going to have to pitch a lot of innings, so I knew that I could let the guys hit the ball and let the defense make plays and just rely on the defense out there."
Whitacre is 6-1 for the Warriors this season on the mound with a 1.20 ERA in 52.1 innings. He has 51 strikeouts.
He will get the start on Friday as the Warriors play Hanover at 3 p.m., in the Group 4A state semifinals at Liberty University in Lynchburg.
"Adam had to take on the No. 1 role on the mound, and he's done an outstanding job for us all season," Martin said. "Then he's even taken his performance up another notch in the playoffs."
Whitacre only allowed two hits in a 6-0 victory over Woodgrove in Sherando's first postseason game. He followed that up less than a week later with a strong performance against Heritage. Whitacre went 5.1 innings, allowing just three hits in a no-decision, a 4-3 Sherando win. Whitacre was matched up against Coastal Carolina University signee Zach Hopek in that game.
Whitacre then pitched another stellar game against Eastern View in the Region 4A North quarterfinals. The Warriors won the game with just one hit in a 1-0 victory. Whitacre pitched seven scoreless innings and struck out seven in the win.
Part of Whitacre's success this season can be attributed to the experience he gained last year as a sophomore gaining valuable playing time, including some as a pitcher, on Sherando's state championship team.
"I think that he proved to himself last year that not only could he compete at this level, but he could excel at this level," Martin said. "I think he came into this season with a high confidence level, and at no point in the season did he go into a slump offensively or start to struggle on the mound and his defense has been tremendous."
Whitacre said pitching is his favorite position. He said he enjoys competing against the hitters, and trying to out-think them.
Whitacre said his curveball has been really strong for him this season and helped keep hitters off balance.
While he has been strong on the mound, Whitacre is just as important to the Warriors at the plate and on the field. Martin said Whitacre's defense has been great in the outfield.
"With Adam and Reid in the outfield, we feel like we have two center fielders playing," Martin said. "He's probably a prototypical center fielder, but he gets a lot of balls in right field that your average outfielder or even above average outfielder wouldn't get to."
Offensively, Whitacre is hitting .400 (30 for 75) with seven doubles, four triples and an-area best 29 runs scored. Whitacre, Sherando's lead-off hitter, also has nine RBIs and 15 stolen bases.
In the victory against Heritage, Whitacre had a lead-off triple that led to the game-tying run.
Whitacre said that Martin has helped him a lot at the plate.
"Coach Martin just tells me that if I can get my front foot down, that I can be a pretty good hitter," Whitacre said. "I just have to focus in on keeping my front foot down."
Whitacre said he plays for a showcase team in North Carolina in the offseason. The team doesn't practice, but he just shows up for the tournaments to help him get more looks from colleges. He said the tournaments are all in North Carolina, except for one in Virginia and one in Georgia.
"It's fun to go down and see the competition that they have," Whitacre said. "It's a lot of good competition down there. I think it's pretty cool just meeting new people through baseball, like I've met so many people through travel [ball], through Sherando. I think that's the greatest part about sports is just meeting new people."
Whitacre said the experience of winning a state title last year was something he won't forget, and he would love to cap this season off with another title.
"I think it would be really big to win it this year," Whitacre said. "It's really hard to even go back to states another year, and we did it back-to-back. I think it would be incredible to win back-to-back state championships. That would be really cool."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or email@example.com Follow on Twitter @tkeelernvd