STEPHENS CITY – It hasn’t really mattered how it’s needed to be done.
Sherando’s baseball team has won in blowout fashion. It has won nail-biters. When the Warriors have needed to pile up runs, they’ve done it. When they’ve needed shutdown pitching, they’ve gotten it, just as they got the key hit from Payne Bauer in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with a win against Loudoun Valley on Tuesday night.
It’s been that type of season so far for the Warriors, who have won nine straight games, are 10-1 overall and are a perfect 6-0 after its first go-round against Class 4 Northwestern District competition.
“We’re definitely capable of putting a lot of runs up on the board and then we’re capable of winning close games,” Sherando senior Hunter Entsminger said after tossing a complete game and striking out 12 in a 4-1 district win over Kettle Run on Thursday, a game that concluded the first half of the Warriors’ district slate. “We’ve got good pitching, we’re solid in the field and we can go up and hit the ball. I think this first half of the season really showed that we can hang really in any ball game.”
Thursday’s game was won with pitching, as Entsminger scattered five hits and a walk over seven innings and capped the win by striking out five of the last eight batters he faced. It was also won by the less flashy version of a Sherando offense that entered the game batting .335 as a team and averaging over 10 runs per contest.
The Warriors staked a lead in the bottom of the first inning against the Cougars when leadoff man Nick Mazza, a blazer on the basepaths, reached on a bunt single, stole second and scored on Jack Duvall’s single, a line drive that glanced off the glove of Kettle Run first baseman Jack Riley.
Sherando added another run in the third inning on another Duvall RBI single, this one set up when Mazza reached on a dropped third strike and advanced to second on a wild pitch.
Leading 2-1 in the fifth inning, the Warriors manufactured another run when Entsminger led off with a walk, stole two bases and scored on Jared Tinsman’s two-out double down the left-field line. They added another insurance run in the sixth when No. 9 hitter Hunter Estep reached on an error to lead off the inning, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a fielder’s choice groundout by Bauer.
Sherando has scored at least 11 runs on four different occasions this season, but Thursday the Warriors relied on small ball.
“We usually do, though,” said Duvall, who had three hits in Thursday’s win. “We’re always looking for a guy to do a job, whether it’s bunting him over, hitting to the back side. We just do our jobs and focus on that and our at-bats.”
That approach has Sherando perched atop the Northwestern District with six more league games to go, but longtime head coach Pepper Martin said the Warriors need to be cautious about their standing as the district’s top dog through the first half.
“This team is by no means a finished product,” Martin said. “We have a lot of improvement to do. We can’t get comfortable. We can’t get pleased or satisfied with where we’re standing right now. We can certainly get better in all phases of the game.”
That includes, Martin said, righting the ship for a couple of pitchers who seem to be too frequently throwing behind in the count, correcting some baserunning mistakes that have popped up on occasion, and continuing to improve an offense that has scored runs at a high rate – a good sign for a program that felt it didn’t produce enough at the plate in 2018.
That offense has cooled in recent games, though. In its last two contests, Sherando has scored three and four runs, its two lowest single-game outputs of the season. Entsminger admitted after Thursday’s win that the Warriors had gotten a little complacent, something that can’t happen now that they have put the targets on their backs with their first-half performance.
“We know we have to play our best every night,” Duvall said. “We can’t take any teams lightly, no matter what we’ve beat them by, no matter what we’ve done. We’ve just gotta keep playing our game.”
Thursday’s win was the closest game Sherando has played in district action so far this spring. The Warriors won their previous five Class 4 Northwestern District contests by a combined score of 75-13.
Led by Entsminger and Tinsman, Sherando’s pitching staff is allowing only 2.3 runs per game in district play. Nine of the Warriors’ 14 runs allowed in the Northwestern District came in an 18-9 win over Millbrook on March 29.
Sherando, which due to weather and work done to its infield had practiced on its field only three times before Thursday’s game, is in the middle of a lengthy homestand that resumes with a game Tuesday against Handley, a team the Warriors beat 21-2 on March 19.
Entering Friday, Sherando held a half-game lead over Millbrook (6-1 in district) in the Northwestern District race. No other team had fewer than three district losses.
“We’ve been in situations like that in the past where we’ve looked up at the halfway point and a couple other teams were ahead of us in the district,” Martin said. “We knew when we played them the next time we had to throw our number one against them. … That’s a given. And a lot of those teams that had a couple early losses have really improved a lot.
“We can be pleased a little bit about where we’re sitting right now but we cannot be satisfied. We can’t feel comfortable about it. We have to keep grinding and we have to keep competing because like I said, we’re gonna get our opponents’ best effort in every game we play against them from here on out.”