2017 Baseball Player of the Year: Miller makes impact in all phases in first year with Warriors
STEPHENS CITY – Longtime Sherando High School baseball coach Pepper Martin was able to attend a few Winchester Post 21 American Legion baseball games last summer to catch a glimpse of Adam Miller, a former Strasburg student who was transferring to Sherando for his senior year.
Martin was immediately aware of Miller’s toughness. During one game, the head coach recalled earlier this week, Miller was on the receiving end of a bad hop on a ground ball and took a shot below his eye but was determined to stay in the game.
Outside of that toughness, however, Martin wasn’t sure what type of impact Miller would have with the Warriors once the high school season rolled around this spring. What Martin did know, though, was that Miller had been schooled in the sport of baseball by former Strasburg head coach Jeff Smoot.
“One thing that was certain is I knew that he would be knowledgeable of the game, he’d be well-schooled in the fundamentals and that he would be an excellent base-runner – things that coach Smoot emphasizes,” Martin said of Miller on Monday. “And he didn’t fail to deliver.”
In his first and only season with Sherando in 2017, Miller was a top contributor to the Warriors in all phases of the game.
He led the team in doubles (eight), runs scored (27), stolen bases (17), walks (14) and on-base percentage (.560), was second in batting average (.429), RBIs (18) and hits (27) and ranked among the local area’s Top 10 in most major offensive categories. He also filled an immediate need as the Warriors’ starting center fielder and emerged as Sherando’s most oft-used starting pitcher and the team’s leader in starts (eight), innings pitched (49), wins (six) and strikeouts (53).
Miller, a first team Virginia High School Coaches Association Group 4A all-state selection and a second team all-state pick by the Virginia High School League, is The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2017 Baseball Player of the Year.
“Our players accepted him with open arms and they made him feel welcome right off the bat, and I think that put him at ease a little bit,” Martin said. “And then of course when his teammates were able to witness how good of a player he was, that he was gonna help our team reach their goals and be successful, I think it made the transition a lot smoother for Adam.”
The acclimation process this spring came and went quickly for Miller, who also netted all-state honors as a safety for Sherando’s football team the previous fall and played with a few of his future baseball teammates – as well as Warriors pitching coach Craig Bodenschatz – with Winchester Post 21 last summer.
In fact, Miller said he needed just one game to feel comfortable on his new team after going 4-for-5 in the Warriors’ win at Broadway in the season opener on March 20.
“I kind of knew my role at that point and it was just kind of when it hit me that yeah, I’m definitely part of this team,” he said.
Miller’s emergence from the No. 2 spot in Sherando’s lineup was a welcome sight for Martin, who said the Warriors had experienced “a little bit of trouble” finding consistent production from that spot in recent years.
Miller settled in quite nicely between junior lead-off man Frank Ritter III and junior Pearce Bucher, who, like Miller, earned all-state recognition this past season after batting .449 and with an area-best 28 RBIs.
“When Frank was going immediately the (opposing pitcher) had to go out of the stretch,” Miller said, “and even when he wasn’t I had Pearce behind me so I knew they were gonna come at me. They had to. So I was just hunting fastballs most of the year and if they gave me a mistake pitch I tried to do the best I could.”
On the mound, Miller finished with a 2.86 ERA and averaged 1.08 strikeouts per inning while thriving behind a changed up that Martin said caught the attention of Bodenschatz during Legion ball in the summer. By the end of the season the right-hander was making starts against some of the Warriors’ toughest opponents.
Martin said Miller’s teammates were often “amused” at the level of intensity he brought to the baseball diamond every day, especially on the mound.
“He has some idiosyncrasies that remind me so much of Max Scherzer when he pitches,” said Martin in reference to the Washington Nationals right-hander and two-time Cy Young Award winner.
“If he makes a bad pitch or misses a location, you can see him talking to himself on the mound.”
Martin said that intensity carried over onto the base paths and in center field, and the head coach praised Miller’s outfield defense, his reads off the bat and angles of pursuit. Miller’s lone error of the season came on the mound on an errant pickoff throw, Martin said, and the senior finished with three outfield assists.
Unfortunately for Miller and the Warriors, Sherando’s final game of the 2017 season was played without the team’s star first-year player. Miller fractured his hand sliding back into the bag after getting picked off against Loudoun Valley in the first round of the Region 4A West tournament on May 30, forcing him to miss the quarterfinal game against Liberty Christian Academy.
Sherando lost that quarterfinal game, 3-2.
“When (my teammates) were all out there it hit me that I wasn’t gonna play. It hit me kind of hard but once they all got back in (the dugout) I knew what my job was that day,” said Miller, who was supposed to start that game on the mound and was replaced by Michael Usa. “I just tried to do the best I could for them and tried to do everything for Mike.”
Miller added that he put his effort into helping Usa, a sophomore, stay calm while helping him develop a plan of attack against LCA’s batters, as Sherando’s pitching strategy required Usa – more of a power pitcher than Miller, he said – to rely more on his off-speed pitches.
“I know it was killing him not being able to play,” Martin said of Miller. “I was talking to him a little bit before the game and his eyes actually teared because of how much he wanted to be in there, not just for him, but for his teammates. That was the bond that was created in three months’ time with that young man.”
That bond, Miller said, was his biggest takeaway from his final high school baseball season.
“I just remember the guys,” said Miller, who will attend James Madison University and will likely take a shot at walking on for the Dukes’ baseball team. “I mean I came in here and just from the from the beginning I knew we could do something special. Of course it never ends the way you want it to end but we had a great year. I just remember the guys. The guys made it a special year and it’s always fun to play baseball with a bunch of nice guys.”