Through the first four innings of Wednesday’s 4A North regional semifinal, Howard had Sherwood in a position it hadn’t been in all season — playing from behind.
The Lions offense was stringing hits together and pitcher Kayli Paugh was successfully navigating through the undefeated Warriors powerful line-up on the way to establishing a 3-1 lead.
But just as it seemed Howard had the defending 4A state champs up against the wall, Sherwood dug down and found an answer.
Scoring four times in the bottom of the fifth, including clutch RBI singles from Nicole Stockinger (3-4, double, triple, 2 RBI) and Mary Beth Bidwick, the Warriors reclaimed the lead and never looked back again en route to a 7-3 victory.
“Having not been in that situation before, I don’t think they really knew how to react at first. And I think they could see it in themselves that they were getting down and they were trying to figure out what they had to do to get back,” Sherwood coach Ashley Barber-Strunk said. “But whatever it was, they realized they had to come together as a team and find that fire and when they did that you could see it — the diving plays on defense, the hits — everything turned around.”
While Howard (19-2-1) was unable to muster a comeback after losing its lead, the team’s offensive effort throughout the game against Sherwood (17-0) pitcher Meggie Dejter created plenty of chances. The Lions had at least one hit in every inning but one on the way to finishing with 10 on the day, which is the most Sherwood has allowed all spring.
In the end, it was simply scoring enough runs to keep up with the host Warriors that proved to be the problem.
“We had our ‘A’ game hitting today, no question,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “We made a few mental mistakes, and when you are playing a team like that you have to be at your best every single pitch. But I was so proud of the girls.
“They laid it all on the field, they couldn’t give any more than they did today.”
Sherwood struck first in the bottom of the opening inning courtesy of an RBI triple by Stockinger that plated Julie Swarr.
But Paugh struck out the next two batters to escape further damage. And as Paugh settled down to hold Sherwood scoreless over the next three innings, that’s when Howard made its move.
The Lions scored once in the third on an RBI double by Taylor McGrann and then twice more in the fourth courtesy of RBI hits from Shannon Wiley and Alli Jakubek.
“We scouted and I know I went out of my way to (ask) people about what they saw when they hit against her. We knew she had a good screwball and a good curveball and is going to go outside to the righties,” said McGrann, who went a perfect 4-4 with three doubles. “Yesterday at practice all we worked on was taking the ball to the opposite field. We were definitely prepared.”
But even with everything that was going well for Howard, it only took a few consecutive hits for Sherwood to steal back the momentum.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, still trailing 3-1, the Warriors loaded the bases with no outs courtesy of three consecutive singles.
“When we came in during that middle of the fifth inning, we knew we had to do something and pick it up,” Bidwick said. “We got loud, got pumped and once we got those runners on we knew that was our inning. We were making good contact with the ball all game, so we felt it was just a matter of time before something good was going to happen.”
That something good for Sherwood started with a sacrifice fly from Addie Armbruster to cut the deficit to one. Then Stockinger delivered an RBI hit to tie things up.
That brought Bidwick to the plate with runners on second and third and the chance to put her team back in front.
“All the pressure was off,” Bidwick said. “Having everybody pumped up, that pumps me up and that gave me the drive to get those runs in too.”
Bidwick laced a single to right that plated both runners and created a 5-3 lead.