Warriors rally past Pioneers for conference win

Sherando shortstop Frank Ritter III looks to the umpire for a call as Millbrook's Bailey Collins steals second base during first inning action Tuesday night in Stephens City. Collins was safe on the play. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando High School’s baseball team had entered Tuesday’s matchup against Millbrook having lost three of its last four games. During that span, Warriors head coach Pepper Martin said it seemed like early deficits simply “sapped” the energy out of his team. Something was different against the Pioneers.

The Warriors watched Millbrook strike for a three-run fifth inning only to counter with four runs of their own in the bottom half. Meanwhile three Sherando pitchers combined to limit the Pioneers to just four hits and the defense made a few timely plays in the late innings to propel the Warriors to a 4-3 Conference 21 West victory at home.

“We knew that we had to change something because it obviously wasn’t working,” Warriors senior left fielder Brett Bodenschatz said of Sherando’s recent struggles. “But I mean, I don’t know what it was, it just clicked on and it was crazy.”

Millbrook (6-3) appeared to seize control of a game that was light on run production with a trio of runs in the top of the fifth inning but Sherando (9-3) immediately answered.

Junior leadoff man Frank Ritter III gave the Warriors a jolt to open the bottom of the fifth when he lined a double down the left-field line off Millbrook starter Austin Murphy.

Sherando's Frank Ritter III jumps back safely to second base as Millbrook shortstop Alec Rudolph attempts a pick off play during first inning baseball action Tuesday night in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

Ritter scored two batters later when Pearce Bucher snuck a chopper into left for an RBI single to cut Millbrook’s lead to 3-1.

“I was just trying to lead off with a base hit and good things will happen,” said Ritter, who went 2-for-3 to lead the Warriors. “We’ve got one of the best lineups and they can back us up.”

Following Murphy’s eighth strikeout of the night for the inning’s second out, Myles McPartland pulled Sherando within one when he laced a line drive just out of reach of diving third baseman Gavin West for an RBI double.

A wild pitch and a walk dealt by Millbrook’s Jalen Tyson put runners at the corners, and Martin opted to try to pressure the sophomore reliever into a balk by sending Hunter Entsminger early from first base. The play instead turned into an RBI hit-and-run single for Bodenschatz, who grounded the 2-2 offering from Tyson through the vacant hole on the right side of the infield to tie the game at 3-3.

“Obviously facing Austin Murphy, (there was) definitely a velocity change to Jalen but trying to put the ball in play,” Bodenschatz said. “Just trying to get something to break through, get some confidence and everything just worked out.”

Sherando's Adam Miller has nowhere to run as Millbrook third baseman Gavin West chases him on a forced play at third base on a ground ball during second inning action Tuesday night in Stephens City. West tagged Miller out on the play and Miller was able to foil a double play. Rich Cooley/Daily

The Warriors, again with runners at the corners, pulled off the same play in the next at-bat. This time Bodenschatz’s early departure from first forced Tyson to balk, plating Entsminger for the go-ahead run.

“We got behind in the count again and I saw an excellent opportunity to do it again,” Martin said.

“After that we just had to buckle down defensively. Our pitchers did an excellent job of getting crucial outs and we were able to make enough plays to get the win.”

Millbrook set itself up for an immediate response against Sherando reliever Tad Dean in the top of the sixth, as an error and a bunt single by Alec Rudolph put two on for the top of the Pioneers’ order to lead off the inning.

But Dean – who came on with one out in the bottom of the fifth to halt the damage done to Warriors starting pitcher Michael Usa – got a big strikeout off leadoff man Nate Jaye, then induced a grounder to second baseman Jack Duvall with the infield in that ended with Duvall throwing out the would-be tying run at the plate for the second out. A fly out ended the inning with Sherando’s lead intact.

Sherando's second baseman Jack Duvall forces out Millbrook's Cody Wolford on a double play ball during last week's game in Stephens City. The Warriors will host Skyline in a key matchup Tuesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Tad came in in a difficult situation and pitched us out of it. and he’s been doing that all year,” Martin said of the junior left-hander, who pitched two shutout innings and allowed a hit and a walk while striking out two to pick up the win. “He has been a very vital addition to our pitching staff. He’s come in in situations and gotten the job done for us.”

Dean got into some trouble in the seventh after dealing a one-out walk and was pulled in favor of senior Adam Miller after falling behind 2-0 to senior catcher Kyle Keenan. Miller got Keenan to fly out before West was thrown out at third trying to advance two bases on Ryan Houchens’ infield single to end the game.

Usa, a sophomore right-hander, struggled with his command against the Pioneers – he issued five walks and hit three batters – but he held Millbrook hitless through 4 1/3 innings.

Millbrook’s first hit was an RBI single from Conor Hartigan in the fifth. West gave the Pioneers a 3-0 lead with a two-run single two batters later.

Usa was charged with three earned runs on just two hits while striking out two.

“I thought Michael was a bulldog on the mound. He really competed. And he didn’t have his best stuff tonight. But when he got in a little bit of a jam we made a defensive play or he made the right pitch to get a hitter to hit to contact and hit to our fielders.”

Murphy lasted 4 2/3 innings for Millbrook and allowed three earned runs on five hits and two walks. Tyson took the loss.

Sherando returns to action tonight on the road at James Wood.

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