Outsider’s perspective (by Kevin Trudgeon): Warriors’ magical run
By the time John Bentley disappeared under a sea of red and white in front of the mound at Radford University Sunday afternoon (if you weren’t there in person you can watch the scene unfold on YouTube), I had my answer to a question I’d been kicking around for the past few weeks.
Q: What could stop the Sherando baseball team?
It seems silly, especially now, to wonder such a thing about a team whose only blemish this season came in a five-inning, one-run, second-game-of-a-doubleheader loss to Spotswood in mid-April.
The Warriors didn’t just beat opponents this year, they beat them down.
They scored 10 or more runs 13 different times, shut out the opposing side eight times and only allowed a single run six other times.
Four starters hit over .400, the team batting average was .365 and their top two starting pitchers — John Bentley and Reid Entsminger — combined to allow nine earned runs over 113 innings while striking out 126 batters and posting an 18-0 record in the process.
Sherando was a well-oiled machine that chewed up and spit out one opponent after another.
Still, I had my reservations heading into the postseason.
For one, outside of a come-from-behind win over Millbrook and the doubleheader with Spotswood the Warriors hadn’t really been tested during the regular season or district tournament, a similar scenario that faced last year’s team, which raced out to a 19-2 record only to get bounced by Monticello in its first game of the playoffs.
How would this year’s squad handle the adversity it would see once the level of competition rose?
Would a Sherando team accustomed to five-inning blowouts be able to grind out low-scoring victories with the pressure on?
At the time these felt legitimate questions to ask. Now they just seem downright foolish.
Beginning with a 13-inning, 1-0 walk-off win over Loudoun Valley in the Region II quarterfinals and ending with Sunday’s 2-1 win over Tunstall in the Group AA state championship game, the Warriors proved that whether it was high-scoring slugfests or low-scoring pitcher’s duels, the result was going to be the same every time they took the field — they were going to find a way to win.
They rallied from a run down in extra innings to beat defending state champ Powhatan, handed Amherst and its large contigent of fans its first loss of the season and survived a shaky first few innings to edge Tunstall.
They won because of their stars — Entsminger and Bentley were brilliant on the mound, Jacob Carney provided the game-winning hit to score Taylor Loudan in the championship game and catcher Chase Smallwood was so imposing behind the plate that teams didn’t even try to run on him — and they won because of their role players.
Jeb Brown had a pair of RBI singles in the semifinals against Amherst, center fielder Adam Whitacre and third baseman Logan Bucher each threw runners out at the plate and Justin Angel and Connor Stevenson provided offense at the bottom of the order.
Over and over longtime coaches Pepper Martin and Craig Bodenschatz talked about the confidence the Warriors had in one another and the belief that a new player would step up each game and again and again they delivered.
It got to the point where I stopped wondering if Sherando would come through in the clutch and began expecting it.
Call it “Warrior Magic”, call it karma for last year’s early exit or call it 20 years in the making, it really doesn’t matter.
As teammate after teammate piled on in celebration Sunday afternoon, there was only one thing the Warriors cared about being called — state champions.
— Kevin Trudgeon is the sports editor at The Winchester Star