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WINCHESTER — Pepper Martin has seen a lot of wins over his 29-season tenure as the Sherando High School baseball coach.

The program’s latest milestone was pretty special for multiple reasons.

Malachi Sloane’s RBI single in the top of the seventh gave the Warriors’ a 4-3 victory over James Wood at R. Charles Hott Field for the program’s 400th career triumph. More importantly, the triumph over the top-seeded Colonels kept Sherando’s season alive and advanced the Warriors (12-10) to the Class 4 Northwestern District Tournament finals on Wednesday where they can earn a Region 4C semifinal berth.

“This was very satisfying,” said Martin, who had earned his 400th career win earlier during the season. “During the season, we were so inconsistent. We made mistakes defensively and baserunning that cost us to lose some games, but then in the second half of the season we started to turn it around and the kids started believing in themselves.”

James Wood coach Adrian Pullen took the blame for his team’s loss, which will put the regular-season champions (17-3) on the road at Heritage in the Region 4C semifinals, but was quick to credit Sherando’s effort.

“I did a poor job coaching tonight and it’s my fault that we lost because I didn’t have my guys ready to execute,” he said. “But I’m going to tell you what, hats off to Coach Martin in getting No. 400 twice. I respect that man and how his team was prepared to come and win the baseball game. Our team was not, that’s on me.”

Sherando lost twice to James Wood during the regular season, including a 16-0 thumping in the first meeting. But in the second matchup last week, the Warriors fell 2-1 in eight innings.

“I think the last time out with us losing in extra innings by one run gave us a lot of confidence coming into this game because the kids started to believe in themselves,” Martin said. “Prior to that we were beating the mediocre and weak teams and the teams that were talented were putting it to us. I think there was a little lull there on our confidence. Once we started playing better as a team, it’s instilled a lot more confidence in us that, ‘Hey, on any given day we can not only go out there and compete with the better teams, but we can find a way to win.’”

The Warriors never trailed in the contest, taking a 3-0 lead in the first inning. James Wood rallied for three in the fourth to tie it and the score stayed 3-3 until the top of the seventh.

James Wood starter Colin McGuire, who had overcome a shaky start to throw five shutout innings, walked Cole Orr to start the seventh and Pullen went to the bullpen for Garett McAlexander. Tyler Strosnider’s sacrifice bunt moved Orr to second and McAlexander got Brady Largent on a liner to second for the second out.

Pullen again went to the bullpen, bringing in Nick Bell, who had shut out the Warriors for seven innings last week. Bell got ahead of Neil Holborn 1-2, but Holborn refused to swing at a ball out of the strike zone and drew a walk.

That brought up Sloane, who had hit the ball hard all evening. Sloane took a terrible hack at a slider in fouling off Bell’s first pitch and fell behind 0-2. Sloane then took two balls before lining a shot to right-center that easily scored Orr and set off a celebration in the Sherando dugout.

“The whole game they had been throwing me a lot of offspeed,” said Sloane. “I was a little behind on the fastball so I wanted to make sure I didn’t get beat. He just gave me an offspeed and I sat back on it. … I told myself to drive it to right field, what coach has been preaching all year.”

Martin said Sloane showed grit to overcome what they call PDS — predetermined swing — on Bell’s first pitch. “He thought he was going to get a first-pitch fastball and jump all over it,” Martin said. “He got that slider and he looked bad. But, he recognized it and refocused and went back to the cues that we teach at the plate.”

Pullen said he wouldn’t second-guess the last inning pitching changes. “It worked out exactly how I thought it would in my head,” he said. “We bring Garett in and he got two outs and then bring in Nick against Holborn. Hats off to him for drawing a walk and getting us to the hottest hitter on the team tonight. … Once again, we didn’t execute.”

While a senior, Sloane had never played at Sherando before this season because he had been home-schooled.

“Just being able to have this opportunity and play with these guys is just the best feeling of my life,” Sloane said. “I can’t wait until the next game.”

“He is one of the finest young men I’ve ever had the opportunity and pleasure to coach,” Martin said of the catcher/designated hitter. “It’s, ‘yes sir, no sir.’ He works hard. Everything is team oriented. It’s not about him. It’s about us. He’s just a joy to coach.”

Martin turned to another player that wasn’t with the program last season to close out the contest. Carlo Lisciandrello is a transfer student from Illinois, who has pitched and played infield.

Lisciandrello pitched 6.1 innings of shutout ball against the Colonels last week and had entered in the fourth inning on Thursday when starter Gary Keats got into trouble. Martin said he and his staff decided Thursday to keep Lisciandrello in the dugout, instead of playing second base.

“He wasn’t a starter at second so he could get down there and get ready when we needed him,” Martin said.

Lisciandrello stranded runners in the fifth and sixth and was at his best in the seventh. He struck out Jared Neal to open the inning. After giving up a single to McGuire, Lisciandrello fanned Eli Miller and Bell to end the contest.

“Stay loose,” Lisciandrello said of his recent success against the Colonels. “Don’t tense up and just stay calm.”

“When Carlo is on, he’s on,” said Sloane. “There’s no stopping him.”

“He throws the ball and it looks like a strike,” Pullen said of Lisciandrello’s recent success against his team. “It blows outside and we’re not disciplined enough to lay off pitches that are off the plate.”

The Warriors didn’t exactly smash the ball in the first inning against McGuire, who was 8-0 entering the contest, but they found the right spots. Martin called it “unintentional small ball.”

A bad-hop single, a walk and a swinging bunt loaded the bases with one out. Neil Holborn’s infield hit plated the first run. Sloane followed with the one hard-hit ball that shortstop Miller backhanded, but could only get a force at second as another run scored. Hayden Lafever poked a single to right to drive in the final run.

The Warriors thwarted a pair of James Wood threats with 6-4-3 double plays in the first and third innings. The Colonels also hurt themselves with poor baserunning.

James Wood got even in the fourth, though not without controversy. Miller walked, went to second on a wild pitch and scored on Bell’s single. When Keats hit Deuce Strosnider, the Warriors turned to Lisciandrello. Later in the inning with the bases loaded (Michael Jackson walked) and two outs, Kemper Omps singled up the middle. Bell scored and Strosnider headed home from second base. While Strosnider slowed to celebrate at the plate, Jackson was thrown out going to third base for the third out. While it appeared the Strosnider had yet to cross the plate, the home plate umpire ruled that he had crossed before the third out.

Trey Williams and Sloane each had two hits for the Warriors. Deuce Strosnider had two hits for the Colonels.

James Wood will have plenty of time to work on things before playing again at Heritage on May 30. “We’ll get back on track,” Pullen said.

Sherando awaits Monday’s semifinal winner between No. 7 Handley (which found out it was still alive Thursday after Millbrook forfeited) and No. 3 Kettle Run. The title game will be held Wednesday at the highest remaining seed.

Sloane believes the Warriors can bring home a trophy. “I’ve never had this opportunity, so I just feel blessed to have it,” he said. “… If we keep the energy up and play like we do, I think we’re going to go to regionals.”

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