Warriors beat rival Pioneers

WINCHESTER – Even during a down season, Sherando’s baseball team possesses a little bit of playoff magic.

The sixth-seeded Warriors erupted for five runs in the first inning against Millbrook in Friday night’s Conference 21 semifinal game and held off the No. 2 Pioneers for a 7-3 victory, snapping a seven-game losing streak to their Northwestern District rivals.

Sherando, which made back-to-back state semifinal appearances the last two seasons, will play for the conference tournament title at top-seeded Woodgrove at 6 p.m. next Tuesday and qualified for its seventh consecutive regional appearance with Friday’s win.

“We were coming in and I was just like we need to hit the ball because we haven’t hit the ball all season,” said Sherando senior Adam Whitacre, who went 3-for-3 with a double, an RBI and two runs scored and pitched five innings to get the win. ” … For some reason we have just been hitting the ball great [the last two games] and it’s just been a blessing.”

Everything fell Sherando’s way early against the Pioneers (19-3).

A catcher’s interference call against Millbrook allowed Sherando’s Myles McPartland to reach base safely to lead off the top of the first inning, and an error on pitcher Alex Amos’ pickoff attempt allowed McPartland to move all the way to third. Freshman Frank Ritter followed immediately with an RBI single to left to give the Warriors (10-12) a 1-0 lead.

Whitacre followed with a single and senior Connor Stevenson attempted to sacrifice both runners into scoring position with a bunt. However, Amos opted to try to get the out at second base and Whitacre slid in ahead of the throw to load the bases with no outs.

Freshman Pearce Bucher then slapped a two-run single to right field with two strikes to give Sherando a three-run lead.

“I saw two back-to-back curveballs and they kind of got me there, but I was sitting on that fastball because I knew it was coming up and away,” said Bucher, who finished with three RBIs.

“We were just trying to keep our composure,” he added of Sherando’s first-inning rally, “not let anything get to our heads. Just focus on the job that had to be done.”

Michael White (2-for-2) notched an RBI single later in the inning when he lofted a fly ball to left field that was knocked down by the wind. Sherando’s fifth run of the inning came home on Austin Simmons’ RBI single that glanced off the glove Millbrook third baseman Nate Jaye as he tried to make a lunging stop to his left, skipped past shortstop Trenton Burgreen and trickled into left field.

“They kind of jumped up and smacked us right in the face there right from the get-go,” said Pioneers coach Brian Burke, whose team advanced to the Group 4A state championship game last season. “It wasn’t our type of baseball tonight. … It was just those little things and it just kind of snowballed there in the first inning. A five-run deficit at this stage of the year is extremely hard to overcome. I don’t care who you are.”

Sherando added another run in the second inning when Whitacre scored on Bucher’s bunt that rode the chalk all the way down the first-base line.

Amos (four earned runs, five hits allowed, two walks, three strikeouts), the Northwestern District’s Player of the Year, lasted just two innings before giving way to Colin Benner, who pitched the final five innings for Millbrook and allowed an unearned run on three hits, two walks and nine strikeouts.

“We came here earlier in the season and we got a couple [runs] on them in the beginning and we saw them getting a little scared,” Whitacre said. “We just knew we had to put some runs on them, put some pressure on them and it worked tonight.”

The Warriors’ good fortunes weren’t limited to the offense. Millbrook failed to score despite putting the leadoff man on base in each of the first two innings against Whitacre. In the first inning, the Pioneers had a runner thrown out at the plate trying to steal home after Amos got in a rundown between first and second.

Millbrook broke through for three runs in the fifth inning against Whitacre. A Sherando error and back-to-back singles by Michael Tinsman and Bruce Keenan loaded the bases with no outs in the bottom of the fifth, and three straight RBIs by Amos, Conor Hartigan and Ryan Hartigan cut the Warriors’ lead in half.

“We knew they were going to make a push. They’re just too talented not to,” Warriors coach Pepper Martin said. “We just had to withstand that and try to continue to extend the lead, and the kids did a nice job.”

Sherando answered right back with a run in the top of the sixth on Whitacre’s RBI single that scored McPartland for a 7-3 Warriors lead.

On the mound, Whitacre was charged with two earned runs on seven hits, a walk and four strikeouts in his five innings of work before being relieved by senior Ty Michaud.

Michaud retired all six batters he faced with striking out four.

“We had our pitchers in a good position to be in, we just had to come out here and perform and execute,” said Martin, who was able to keep both pitchers eligible with short outings against James Wood in Tuesday’s quarterfinal. “Our players earned this, no question.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com