Sherwood girls claim fifth state title in as many years
COLLEGE PARK – As the Sherwood varsity softball team gathered on the pitch for the post state championship game photo Friday at Maryland Softball Stadium, all the players faced the camera except one.
Senior outfielder Madi Marks had her back to the photographer, displaying her jersey number. Marks wears number five.
For Sherwood, the number five held an extra special meaning.
The undefeated Warriors claimed their fifth state championship crown in five years with their 7-2 victory over Chopticon from St. Mary’s County. Friday’s game marked Sherwood’s tenth appearance in a state title game. The Braves (19-4) hadn’t participated in the state finals since 1985.
Sherwood head coach Ashley Barber-Strunk stated earlier in the season that her team focuses on one game at a time and prepares for each opponent one by one. That mindset has led Barber-Strunk to an undefeated record as head coach.
“It doesn’t matter who we play. You treat everyone as equals,” she said. “No matter what their record is, no matter what they’ve done, you treat everyone as an equal no matter what.”
The Warriors weren’t concerned about being 19-0 as they headed into the finals. They remained focused on Chopticon.
That laser focus was tested early when the Braves jumped out to a two-run lead by the bottom of the third and Sherwood had yet to get a player home.
The Warriors were searching for a spark. That jolt came at the top of the fifth as junior catcher Brittany Mathis was ejected from the game on an interference penalty.
After Mathis’ ejection, the Warriors fired off four runs in a matter of minutes. Junior outfielder Faith Hanrahan got Sherwood on the board first.
Senior Kara Carney went up to bat and slammed the ball as a Chopticon fielder struggled to catch it. That mistake proved costly for the Braves as Sherwood seniors Hanna Nalls and Marisa Mancini both made it across home base.
Carney’s first run gave Sherwood a 4-2 lead, but she wasn’t finished yet.
The Heidelberg University commit owned the only home run of the game as she fired the ball over the fence at the top of the seventh inning and jogged home, giving Barber-Strunk a high-five on the way.
The Sherwood dugout emptied onto the field and surrounded Carney, jumping and shouting. Barring an unprecedented Braves comeback, the Warriors were on the cusp of taking home their fifth consecutive state title.
“I’m so happy right now,” Carney said as she wiped away tears after the game. “I’m so grateful for it. It means the world.”
The senior said she had been overthinking her performance prior to her home run.
“I’d been trying too hard the whole game, I guess. Stock [assistant coach Mike Stockinger] told me to relax and just hit it and I did,” said Carney. “It was unbelievable.”
The Warriors received the 4A championship trophy to commemorate their victory. Chopticon was also recognized for their record-breaking season.
The Braves broke their school record for softball victories by class, a record previously set by the class of 1985. Head coach Kevin Cioppa was still smiling after the loss.
“It has been a magical, special ride,” he said of Chopticon’s season. “They’re an incredibly magical bunch and it’s been an honor to coach them. It’s been a tremendous season. I could never be disappointed in this team. I thank them for taking me along on the ride with them.”
The Warriors will graduate eight players this season, including Carney, Marks, Mancini and Nalls. Barber-Strunk plans to stick to her game plan for 2017.
“Going into next season, you look at the first game and you start right there. You don’t go any further,” she said. “You don’t look at states, you don’t look at region finals or who’s the team to beat. You look at who is our first [opponent] and how do we have to prepare.”