This season, Sherando’s baseball program did something it had never done even in its state championship season in 2013 — put together a 17-game winning streak.
After dropping the second game of the spring, Pepper Martin’s club ran off 17 straight wins, which included 11 straight in the Class 4 Northwestern District.
After leading his team to a 19-4 mark, which included a Northwestern District regular-season title and a berth in the Region 4C semifinal, Martin is The Winchester Star’s Baseball Coach of the Year. It’s the eighth time that Martin has captured the honor, having previously won in 1995, 2004, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2017.
The Warriors advanced to the district tournament final before falling 3-0 to Kettle Run (a state quarterfinalist). They later fell 5-3 against Riverside (the state runner-up) in the regional semifinals.
Q: What were your expectations this spring and were they met?
Martin: Coming into the season, our expectations were like they are every year for Sherando baseball. We’re going to set some team goals and worry about the individual goals as we go. … Our expectations were to challenge for the Northwestern District title, to get into the postseason and basically take it one step at a time. Obviously, we wanted to go a lot farther than we ended up going, but that’s just the way the season unfolded. We thought we had the potential to be a good team. We had some solid pitching returning. We did have some question marks and that was to replace the left side of our infield with the loss of two four year starters in Pearce [Bucher] and Frank [Ritter]. The kids that filled in there did an admirable job and that helped us and our defense got better and better. We knew that we had to make some improvements, particularly offensively. We left a lot of baserunners in scoring position the year before. We couldn’t get that key hit. We worked hard in the preseason to try to improve in that area and we certainly did. That was one of the keys to our success.
Q: What were the defining moments of your season?
Martin: There might have been a few of them. It might have been the first and second game of the season. Even though that’s early in the year, a couple of things transpired in both games that led us to feel we had the makings of being a special team. In the first game of the season, we were down 5-0 to a very good team in Woodgrove. Some past teams, getting down like that away against a very a good team, may have hoped we could make a comeback, but it didn’t really keep competing and grinding. Our team that day showed a never-say-die attitude and we kept grinding, scoring a run here and two runs there and came back and won the game.
Against Loudoun Valley, we jumped out to a 6-0 lead and because of some of the things that transpired during the game, we ended up losing that lead and eventually the game. I didn’t hear any excuses from the players on the bus ride back. After that game, the team reels off 17 straight wins. That was quite an accomplishment. Even our state championship team in 2013, they won 15 in a row. Against different levels of opponents and various game scenarios, we still found a way to win them. During that time we had a couple of run-rule games and we had a couple of one-run games we were able to pull out.
When you are able to sweep your cross-county rivals that’s a highlight because Millbrook year-end and year-out is a very solid program. They had some solid players. I’m sure they’d say the same thing about us. Those stand out.
Q: Who were some of the players who surprised you this season?
Martin: Some of the players didn’t surprise me, but I saw them finally realize their potential. Jack Duvall, Michael Usa and Hunter Enstminger. I could throw Payne in there, but we could see that coming. He came up for a cup of coffee when he was a freshman. As a sophomore he fell right into a starting role and had a very solid year for us offensively last year. He picked up where he left off and even improved on his previous season. That gave us a really strong offensive arsenal from No. 2 to No. 6 in the order. Nick Mazza was a pleasant surprise. He had never hit much for us previously. It took him a while to get adjusted, but we rolled the dice. With his speed, we had to have him as our leadoff hitter. He did an excellent job for us. He ended up batting .303 for the season for us after his first nine games were around the Mendoza line. In the postseason, Nick and Jack turned it up a notch. Unfortunately, our No. 3 through No. 6 hitters in postseason, their bats went a little cold. That’s when runs were at a premium and we weren’t scoring as much as we had. Pitching-wise, of course, we got what we expected to get out of Hunter, but Jared Tinsman had a heck of a season for us. We wouldn’t have had the success we had as a team had not Jared stepped up the way he did, giving us quality starts and coming in in relief in a few situations where we needed him.
Q: What was your most disappointing moment of the season?
Martin: When a game ends your season, it’s got to be your biggest disappointment. There’s probably a close second to that. Obviously getting beat by Riverside and getting eliminated, that was our toughest loss without a doubt because that brought to an end to the careers of six seniors who had been very loyal and devoted to our program. I’d have liked to send them off with a lot more postseason success. One bad inning did us in and that’s tough to swallow. Probably the second disappointing loss is that we had an opportunity to have a complete sweep in our district and finish the district regular season undefeated. We didn’t play particularly well at Kettle Run and lost our last district game against them because we left a lot of runners on base in scoring position and we didn’t play very good defense.
Q: With six seniors leaving the program, what are your expectations for next season?
Martin: We have some younger players, some sophomores and juniors who will be juniors and seniors next year that got a lot of playing time in tough game situations. We hope that they grew a little bit being in those situations and grew a little bit skill-wise, but we have a lot of big shoes to fill. Next year’s team, as far as our approach offensively and pitching-wise, will be certainly different than this year. Next year, we may instead of having starters going six innings or getting us complete games, our pitching staff may go the 4-2-1 or the 3-3-1 rout. Whoever we start that particular day, we hope can give us four. It’s going to be a little bit different. It’s going to be a challenge. That’s what makes coaching high school baseball so enjoyable. You have players move on, graduate and you don’t have them anymore, but it’s what you have to work with and what you do with what you have to work with that makes it a challenge, but exciting to coach at a high school level.