After a one-year hiatus, Sherwood softball is back in very familiar territory.
Answering a valiant comeback attempt by visiting Howard in the 4A North region championship game on Friday, the Warriors scored three late runs to pull away for an 8-5 victory and a berth in the state final four.
After winning five straight state titles between 2012 and 2016, followed by finishing as a finalist in 2017, Sherwood lost to Urbana in last year’s region quarterfinals. So as the team celebrated with the region title hardware Friday afternoon, there was a feeling of redemption in the air.
“That devastating loss, that has been our drive. This team, whether it’s me as the only senior or our huge junior class, none of us have a ring and we all want it so bad,” said Sherwood’s Grace Ronan. “That loss against Urbana made us all realize how hard we are willing to work for it and so to get back here and win, it’s an amazing feeling to see that work pay off.”
Sherwood (17-1) advances to face Bowie — a 13-1 winner over High Point for the 4A South title — on Tuesday at Bachman Park in the 4A state semifinals. Warriors’ coach Ashley Barber-Strunk said that while her team has been careful not to get ahead of itself this season, last year’s early playoff exit has certainly been motivation.
“We’ve said from the very beginning, never forget what that felt like last year,” she said. “Success during the regular season is great, but what matters most is the playoffs and that’s when your clock starts. It’s up to them now to determine when their clock ends and, you saw today, they aren’t ready for it to end yet.”
On the other side, the loss spoiled the Lions’ attempt to win back-to-back region championships. Howard (18-6), which had defeated Mervo, Catonsville and Dulaney to setup the meeting against Sherwood, found itself in a quick 5-0 hole in the title game match-up.
The Warriors scored three times in the first inning, highlighted by doubles from Nicole Ladino (2-4, 2 runs, RBI), Christi Mathis (3-3, 2 doubles, run, RBI) and Samantha Combs (2-3, RBI), for an early 3-0 advantage. Sherwood then added two more runs in the second, capitalizing on a couple Lions’ errors and a double from Ally Bloom (2-5, double, triple, 2 runs, RBI).
But for as lopsided as things seemed early on, Howard never quit.
Samantha Hobert (6 innings, 4 strikeouts) settled in at pitcher to hold the Warriors off the scoreboard for a couple innings, and the Lions’ offense woke up to score three in the fourth and two more in the fifth to tie the game at 5-5.
A 2-RBI double from Becky Merson (2-3), along with a RBI single from Lindsey Smith (2-4), accounted for the runs in the fourth inning. Then a 2-run home run over the fence in right center by Sophie Morton (3-4, double, home run) tied things up.
“The fight from these girls was unbelievable because [Sherwood] came out hot and we’ve come down here in prior years and struggled to answer after we have fallen behind,” said Howard coach Chuck Rice, whose teams lost in the region playoffs against Sherwood each spring from 2014 through 2017. “So to be able to string some things together and really hit the ball hard, that was great to see. We gave ourselves a chance.”
But just as the Lions seemed to have stolen the momentum, Sherwood grabbed it right back courtesy of a RBI single from Combs in the bottom half of that fifth inning.
After Combs — who pitched all seven innings and struck out three — helped Sherwood escape a second-and-third jam in the sixth inning without any damage, the Warriors then got some insurance in their half of the frame courtesy of a RBI triple from Bloom and a SAC fly from Kayley Bina (1-3, 2 RBI, run).
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“There’s no doubt in my mind, we got complacent and Howard took advantage of that. Good teams can score very quickly and Howard is a good team,” Barber-Strunk said. “But the nice thing is that our players were able to see it and identify the things they needed to fix in order to win this game. We got back to hitting the ball hard and finding holes.”
Needing three runs to extend the game in the seventh, Howard went 1-2-3. It was the first inning all game that the Lions failed to get at least one hit.
“We needed to play a perfect game today and, while we hit with them, we made some miscues defensively and missed a few spots that cost us,” Rice said. “The little things get magnified in games like this unfortunately, but I’m extremely proud of them. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.”
In the loss, Howard got at least one hit from all nine batters in its line-up — including multiple hits from Smith, Morton, Merson, Julia Colton and Paige Eakes.
Sherwood (17-1) — 8, Howard (18-6) — 5
……………123 456 7 R-H-E
Ho………...000 320 0 5-15-2
S………….320 012 0 8-10-0