WINCHESTER – Chase Smallwood’s connection to Shenandoah University baseball runs a bit deeper than that of most players who come through head coach Kevin Anderson’s program.
For Smallwood, playing college baseball for Anderson at SU is an experience steeped in family ties. His two older brothers, Kyle and Cody, both played for the Hornets. Their father, Steve, grew up in Winchester and played American Legion baseball with Anderson, said Smallwood, who added that his father even owns a picture of the first game ever played at Bridgeforth Field (where Shenandoah plays its home games) when Steve Smallwood played for John Handley High School and Anderson played for James Wood.
Chase Smallwood, now a senior catcher at Shenandoah, was probably destined to end up playing for his hometown school in a Hornets uniform. And yet when it came time to pick a college destination during his senior year at Sherando in 2013-14, Smallwood wanted to branch out, play baseball somewhere different and meet new people.
He ended up at another SU – NCAA Division II Shepherd University – on a partial scholarship that fall, but Smallwood’s venture to Shepherdstown, West Virginia turned out to be only a roundabout trip back to Winchester.
“I don’t regret it but I do regret it at the same time,” Smallwood said of choosing to attend Shepherd, where he accumulated only 20 at-bats in 21 games played over two seasons in 2015 and 2016. “I made great friendships up there. I’ve lived and I learned. Things happen. But it was really comforting knowing that I could always come back here if I needed a place to go.”
Shenandoah’s baseball program has very much felt like home to Smallwood for the past decade. Smallwood recalled that he became such a regular presence around the team after his oldest brother Kyle (who wrapped up his college career in 2010) joined SU that Hornets assistant coach Bruce Cameron mistook him for a high school senior during his freshman year at Sherando in 2011 and tried to invite him onto Shenandoah’s campus for an official visit.
Even 10 years later, and despite having his own modern Shenandoah apparel, Smallwood occasionally breaks out some of SU’s old gear from as far back as 2008, a move that he said is often a conversation starter among his teammates.
Smallwood also holds onto memories of Shenandoah’s only two trips to the NCAA Division III World Series in 2009 and 2010, of which both of his brothers – Kyle both seasons and Cody in 2010 – were a part.
“Coach Anderson always talks about the ’09-2010 team. (My teammates) don’t really understand it. I do,” said Smallwood, who went on to list a group of former Hornets from that era that included Kevin Brashears, a former All-American, Scott Van Dusseldorp, the program’s co-leader in career home runs, and Keaton Neeb, who is now an SU assistant coach. “I saw it all first-hand. I heard it all first-hand.”
Smallwood is now on the other side of the Bridgeforth fence while taking his own baseball lessons from Anderson, who didn’t hesitate to welcome the catcher officially into Shenandoah’s program after Smallwood was granted his release from Shepherd in 2016.
“I’ve known Chase, gosh, I mean since he was a Little Leaguer,” Anderson said. “The whole family, they’re just great people. I had the pleasure of coaching Kyle and Cody and he is in the same mold – ‘yes sir, no sir,’ trustworthy. Just outstanding people, and we’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve been very fortunate, to work with them in a coach-player relationship.”
Smallwood, a two-time all-state selection at Sherando, spent last season backing up former Shenandoah catcher Dan Cameron and saw action in 13 games, batting .357 (10-for-28) with a double, triple and five RBIs.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound Smallwood entered the 2018 season as the Hornets’ top option at catcher, and though he feels he’s playing “exceptionally well” behind the plate – he’s thrown out 30 percent of runners trying to steal, has allowed one passed ball and has no errors in 82 total chances – Smallwood has been more streaky with the bat than he would like.
In 15 games played this season, Smallwood is batting .324 (12-for-37) with a home run and nine RBIs. Prior to Friday’s start at Guilford, he had not started either of SU’s previous two contests after starting both games of a doubleheader against Roanoke last Saturday, during which he went 0-for-6 with three strikeouts.
Smallwood went 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs in Friday’s 16-5 win over the Quakers.
“His expectations are high. Our expectations are high for him,” Anderson said. “But I’ll tell you what he brings. He brings a great effort every day. He’s coachable. He has an outstanding attitude. He competes. And the performance is gonna come around, and the reason it is, is because he works hard. He’s making adjustments at the plate. This is a not an easy game to have success, but as a coach he’s gonna give you a great effort every day.”
And Smallwood knows what winning looks like.
Sherando won a VHSL Group AA state championship during his junior season in 2013 and reached the state semifinals the following year. In Smallwood’s two seasons at Shepherd, the Rams were 78-27 and won the Mountain East Conference tournament championship and reached the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional during his sophomore year in 2016. His first season at Shenandoah last year saw the Hornets set a new program record for wins (41) and come within a victory of reaching the Division III World Series.
Shenandoah is winning with less consistency this season – the Hornets are 13-6 (4-3 ODAC)– but Smallwood said his expectations for SU remain high. He wants to win a World Series, something his brothers never accomplished.
“I wanna be the best team out here and I’ve always told my brothers that I’m gonna do something with my class and with my teammates that you guys never did,” said Smallwood, who takes pride in the hometown and familial ties he has with Shenandoah.
“I always told all the recruits, when you come here we don’t wanna win conferences, we don’t wanna win regionals. That’s great and all, you get a nice ring and all that other stuff, but we wanna be No. 1 at the end of the year. That’s how it was in high school. That’s how it was at Shepherd. That’s how it was during Legion and everything. We wanted to be No. 1. Luckily I was able to do that once in high school and I would like to do it again here.”