‘Sherando Gang’: Shepherd quartet and coach have special bond

Former Sherando High School alumni John Bentley, Jacob Carney, Coach Matt McCarty, Tre Porter and Chase Smallwood walk across Fairfax Field at Shepherd University after a recent practice. McCarty, who became coach in July 2013, has helped mold competitive teams through his high school alma mater. Rich Cooley/Daily

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. – They’re known as the “Sherando gang.”

Sherando graduates John Bentley, Jacob Carney, Tre Porter and Chase Smallwood have been playing baseball together for years, and now they’re playing together again at Shepherd University.

“I think that’s big for us to have the friendship and everything that we have from high school and transferring it to college. I think that’s pretty cool,” Porter said. “You don’t really see that often – us being able to be friends in high school and also in college. Finishing out my senior year here with these guys is a pretty fun experience.”

The quartet were all standout players at Sherando. Porter graduated in 2012, while Bentley and Carney graduated in 2013. Smallwood followed in 2014. However, they’re not the only Sherando graduates on the team – head coach Matt McCarty graduated in 2004.

After becoming the head coach at Shepherd in 2013, McCarty said he decided he wanted to recruit heavily from the area, and especially Sherando. All four players and McCarty played at Sherando under coach Pepper Martin and his assistant Craig Bodenschatz.

“When I got into college baseball I was going back to Sherando throwing batting practice,” McCarty said. “So I knew them. I know where they’re coming from. I know the coaches that they’ve been under. So I know they’re going to play the game the right way. They’re going to be well-coached. So it’s less of a learning curve when they get here.”

Bentley and Carney came together after graduating from Sherando. Then last year Porter transferred from Potomac State College to Shepherd, and Smallwood came to Shepherd out of high school.

Bentley, who said their non-Sherando teammates sometimes call them the ‘Sherando gang,’ said that it definitely helps that they already have such a good connection and know each other so well.

“If one of us is having a bad day the other one’s going to pick him up,” Bentley said. “We’re going to tell them like, ‘Hey, let’s get it going, and we’re going to keep our heads up and we’re going to keep fighting and we’ll get it back on track.’ We know that the other ones are there looking out for us.”

They said they like to share stories about their days playing together at Sherando, and, of course, joke around with each other. Porter said the other three like to remind him that they won a state championship the year after he left.

“Carney, he always mentions after I leave they get a state championship. It kind of hurts a little bit, but I think it’s fun,” Porter said with a grin. “I know it was an exciting moment for those guys.”

The quartet also has another familiar Winchester face on the team. Millbrook graduate Colin Benner is also on Shepherd’s squad. The players said they like to remind Benner about the games where they beat Millbrook.

On the field, all four of them have contributed to the team this season.

Carney is the leadoff hitter and is hitting .318 (41 for 129). The junior second baseman has three doubles, 15 RBIs and 35 runs scored.

Carney said he feels like his mental game has really improved over the last few years at Shepherd.

“In high school you play one or two games a week, you’re sitting on maybe not having a good game. You’re sitting on that for maybe two or three days,” Carney said. “Here you’re playing Saturday, Sunday, lots of Tuesday, Wednesday games and then you’re back at it again on Saturday, Sunday. It’s a lot easier to pick it back up if you have a bad day.”

He said that he was a little intimidated when he first came to Shepherd, but once he got to know the team better it made a big difference and he was able to just play his game.

Porter, the senior shortstop, leads the team with 14 homers, 31 RBIs and 46 runs scored. Porter leads the team with a .409 batting average (45 for 110). He was recently named the Mountain East Conference Player of the Week.

He said he made an adjustment last summer at the plate, while playing in the Valley Baseball League for the Front Royal Cardinals. Porter said he also got some good advice from Shepherd assistant coach Anthony Jackson, which has helped him.

“Talking to coach Jackson last year at the end of the season, like playoff time, he told me to put my hands down more and I’ll cut down on the strikeouts and make more contact,” Porter said. “So I did that, I worked on that this summer and it helped me out a lot this season.”

Bentley started off a little slow this season, but has pitched three consecutive complete games. He has a 2.89 ERA and a 5-2 record in 53.0 innings pitched. He was recently named the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Atlantic Region Pitcher of the Week.

Bentley has a team-best 48 strikeouts. However, Bentley said that once he stopped trying to strike out everyone and trust his defense it made a big difference for him.

“I made one adjustment. I decided to let my defense play a little bit for me,” Bentley said. “Strikeouts are a little bit boring, so I figure I’d let the defense play. Tre’s been behind me. Jacob’s been behind me, Chase, they’ve all been behind me making plays for me. So I just wanted to let my defense work a little bit, and things have been going my way.”

Smallwood, a sophomore catcher, hasn’t had a lot of playing time. He’s played in seven games and has scored two runs and has one RBI, but said that he’s very happy with the decision he made to come there.

“I love it here, honestly. It’s a great place to play,” Smallwood said. “It’s a great campus, beautiful area, 30 minutes from home. It’s nice to be able to go home on a weekday if I need to.”

Smallwood said he also loves playing for McCarty, who played with Smallwood’s older brother in high school.

“He knows what he’s doing. It’s nice, though, because he’s younger. He knows how to interact with kids,” Smallwood said. “As a kid he was one of the best to come through Winchester. I’ve always wanted to be like him from the way he threw, the way he handled himself on the field and also the way he hit.”

McCarty said he’s happy to have all four of them, and they all mean a lot to the team.

McCarty, who is a Shepherd graduate, took over the program from Wayne Riser, who had been there for many years. McCarty started out as an assistant at Shepherd in 2010-11 season, and then became interim head coach in 2012 after Riser left, before becoming the official head coach after that season.

“It doesn’t work that way always, but I was in a good situation,” McCarty said. “The program was in good shape when coach Riser moved on, and I couldn’t ask for a better opportunity and so far, so good with it.”

The Rams are having another solid season. They entered the weekend with a 25-9 record and in first place in the Mountain East Conference.

“(Last) weekend was probably the best weekend of baseball we’ve played,” McCarty said. “We started putting it all together. I don’t think we’ve played our best baseball yet. But we’re getting close.”

Bentley said the quartet have been playing together off and on since Little League and at Shepherd they just want to continue what they’ve started.

“We’ve been playing together for a while now,” Bentley said. “We’ve built a relationship then and at Sherando it was fun. It was just nothing but fun. When we took that next step to come to Shepherd it was like, ‘Well, OK, we’re all here now. So let’s have fun here.'”

Contact staff writer Tommy Keeler at 540-465-5137 ext. 168, or tkeeler@nvdaily.com