The Sherwood Warriors girls’ softball team (9-1) led by fourth-year head coach Ashley Barber-Strunk lost to the Northwest Jaguars, 9-5, ending an epic five-season-plus 105-game win streak.
A streak like this warrants review. It was just a high school streak even though historically it’s the third longest streak ever nationwide for high school girls’ softball. It was broken at the beginning of a new season, with the Warriors fielding a new squad and starting five freshmen.
That said, how does a Montgomery County Public Schools program go undefeated for most of the decade? How does an MCPS program field such a consistent and commanding winner?
The community is the key ingredient in this streak, according to Barber-Strunk. Barber-Strunk explained the Warriors have few individual stars. Most Warriors do not go on to rise through the high school ranks and then go on to star at collegiate powerhouses.
Instead of giving a list of star-studded performers, Barber-Strunk said the winning is mainly due to teamwork and the tight-knit community here in Sandy Springs.
Barber-Strunk said there was no Mount Rushmore of players.
But there was one Warrior superstar who brought vitality to these teams and this streak: Nicole Stockinger (2011- 2015).
A streak has moments, and Stockinger provided many of them. Stockinger, who never lost a game in her four Warrior seasons, was the star of the program. Stockinger was involved in more than 80 games of this streak.
Now a sophomore at Towson University, Stockinger batted .269 with five home runs as a freshman.
Nicole’s older sister, Taylor Stockinger, also played with the Warriors. Taylor went on to play at Catholic University.
Nicole led the Warriors with skills and leadership. Nicole is the state’s career leader in home runs, the single-season record holder for most home runs and the co-holder for most triples in a season.
And Nicole’s most spectacular moment came against Leonardtown in the states semifinals in 2015. With the game tied at 0-0 in the bottom of the seventh and the Warriors facing elimination from the playoffs and a possible end to their streak at 81 games, Nicole came up to the plate with two outs facing all-world pitcher Katlin Beasley-Polko, who is now at Coastal Carolina University. With a 3-2 count, Nicole sent a Beasley-Polko pitch into the sky. It seemed to keep traveling away from the fielders and land somewhere near the fence. Nicole touched all four, an inside-the-park walk-off homer to propel the Warriors to 82 and cement Nicole’s place among the greats in the state.
The streak started back in 2011-2012, when Pat Flanagan was coach. Since 1996, Flanagan had taken over the reins of the Warriors program. And, under Flanagan, the Warriors program had turned the corner. The Warriors had won states in 2008 and 2010.
Some of the players of those early programs included Erin McMakin, Kat Correa and Amy Ambel. Yet, on May 20, 2011, Flanagan’s Warriors suffered a loss to the Blair Blazers, 8-5, in the playoffs. No repeat championship in 2010-2011. To start the following season on March 22, 2011, what appeared to be an innocent enough 7-0 win against the Good Counsel Academy Cougars at Sherwood High school was the beginning. A 41-0 record for Flanagan over the next two seasons culminated in two state titles. Flanagan retired at the end of the 12-13 season and moved to Florida. Barber-Strunk took over.
Barber-Strunk was named USA Today Girls Softball Coach of the Year for 2016. Crediting the award to the effort and dedication of the Warrior players, Barber-Strunk took no credit. The players are the ones out on the field, according to Barber-Strunk.
From 2013-2014, Strunk had complied a 64-0 record. Rising seniors Brittany Mathis and Amanda Berkeley were in the program for every one of Strunk’s wins.
Mathis, the starting catcher, loves being part of the Warrior program. Mathis likes that a lot of parents come out to watch games. To Mathis, this is the sense of community the Warriors program instills.
Mathis recounted an unforgettable catch that prolonged the streak. Mathis was a sophomore. On May 23, 2015, the Sherwood Warriors beat the Northwest Jaguars in the 4A State Finals.
With two outs and the Warriors up 4-0 in the top of the seventh, the Jaguars had the bases loaded. The Jaguar batter hit a shot to left that appeared to have every intention of going out of the ballpark.
Mathis felt like “she was going to puke” as she watched the ball sail towards the fence from her catcher position. But lo and behold, Warriors junior left fielder Marisa Mancini caught the ball. Pandemonium erupted for the Warriors squad. The Sherwood team mobbed the field. A fourth 4A State Championship in a row. The streak remained intact at 83 games.
That was Nicole’s last game as a Warrior. Nicole left a four-time champ, undefeated.
And with nine convincing wins this season, it looks as if the Warriors are rebounding. Can you say 21-1?
Barber-Strunk emphasized that third, fourth, and fifth grade girls in the Sandy Spring community girls are already picking up softballs and dreaming of being Warriors softball players. Yes, community.