STEPHENS CITY – Sherando’s baseball team has been solid all season in every phase of the game. That tends to happen when a team is 13-1 overall and riding a 12-game winning streak.
The Warriors have seen the rise in production at the plate they’d been seeking coming into 2019 and are averaging 9.5 runs per game. Their defense has been clean for the most part while averaging just over an error a game, and the team’s pitching staff is holding opponents to 2.7 runs per contest.
At the same time, Sherando’s offense, as potent as it’s been, hit a lull during a four-game stretch last week. The defense, head coach Pepper Martin said after Thursday’s 9-2 win over Turner Ashby, tends to let one error turn into two when the Warriors do commit them.
Outside of what Martin called an “aberration” in a 9-6 loss to Loudoun Valley way back on March 14, when, in Martin’s words, the umpire had a “shoebox strike zone” for both teams, Sherando’s pitching has been the team’s most consistent asset.
“They’ve been our constant,” Martin said. “Not only are our three main guys, our three seniors in (Hunter) Entsminger, (Michael) Usa and (Jared) Tinsman, but also we’ve had some nice spot starts by (McKinley) Dean and (Mason) See and we’ve had some good relief performances by (Calvin) Bowser, (Cam) Mintz. … They’ve pretty much kept us in ball games that we play.”
That group of seven pitchers boasts a combined ERA of 2.00 through the first 14 games of the season, and the Warriors have 110 strikeouts against 37 walks in 91 innings pitched.
The pitching staff was supposed to be the strength of Sherando’s team this season, and so far it’s fit the bill.
“As an offense it’s hard to score eight, nine runs a game,” said Warriors senior right-hander Hunter Entsminger, a James Madison University signee and Sherando’s ace, “so when you’ve got pitching like we do, we can win ballgames scoring two, three, four runs. We know our pitching staff is gonna go out there and throw gems.”
This past week was full of those gems for the Warriors.
Tinsman, another senior right-hander, battled through illness on Tuesday evening to toss six innings against Handley, holding the Judges to three runs on nine hits and two walks while striking out six in a 5-3 win. Entsminger tossed the seventh and needed just 10 pitches to strike out the side.
Usa, Sherando’s third senior starter, threw a five-inning no-hitter in an 11-0 win over a struggling Skyline squad on Wednesday, a great sign for a player working his way back to full speed on the mound after suffering a shoulder injury last season. Usa said on Thursday that Wednesday’s outing was the best he’s felt on the mound all season and added that he’s taken it slow in his return but is nearly back to full strength.
On Thursday against TA it was Entsminger’s turn. The senior dazzled in a complete-game, 91-pitch outing during which he held the Knights to two earned runs on four hits and a walk while striking out 14, dealing heavy doses of a fastball that Martin “guaranteed” reached 90 mph in the seventh inning and a slider that Entsminger said he added to his repertoire over the offseason.
For Entsminger — who threw 70 strikes on Thursday — and his fellow pitchers, the 2019 success has come down to pounding the strike zone.
“We just go out there and throw strikes and let our hitters make plays,” said Tinsman, who has allowed just two earned runs in 21 innings this spring. “They were backing us up, having our back the whole time and they’re just hyping us up to make us do good.”
Entsminger, who no longer plays catcher when he’s not on the mound in an effort to save his arm from any extra wear and tear, has logged the most innings (31) of any Sherando pitcher so far this season. He’s made eight total appearances (four starts) and is 4-0 with three saves, a 1.58 ERA, nine walks and 54 strikeouts. Seven of his walks came in the Loudoun Valley loss, his second appearance of the season and his first start.
“Coach (Craig) Bodenschatz and Hunter himself have both done a good job keeping his arm healthy, and (we) let him get his pen work in but we haven’t been overworking him,” Martin said. “If any our pitchers we overworked early in the season it was probably Tinsman, and he answered the call every time, whether it was as a starter or in relief.”
Tinsman is 3-0 with a save, a 0.67 ERA and 17 strikeouts in six appearances (three starts) this season. Usa has tossed 15 innings with a 2.80 ERA and 15 strikeouts, and Dean has made two starts for the Warriors — and four total appearances — and has pitched 12 ⅓ innings with a 2.27 ERA.
Sherando’s pitching staff has been offered plenty of run support by an offense that seems to be swinging itself out of the lag in production it endured through the four games prior to Wednesday’s drubbing of Skyline.
The Warriors had 14 hits in 23 at-bats against the Hawks, and on Thursday against TA they had nine hits and heated up over their final two at-bats, getting RBI doubles from Usa, Mintz and Payne Bauer in the fifth and sixth innings.
“In that respect it gives us a little comfort,” Martin said of knowing Sherando’s pitching staff will keep the Warriors in most games, “but by the same token we don’t want to have to rely on them all the time. Do we want to win the close ball games? You better believe it. The close, low-scoring ball games, yes. But it’s a heckuva lot easier when your team spots your pitcher five to eight runs. They can pound the zone a little bit more. They don’t have to be fine with their pitches.”