COLLEGE PARK – Once again, Sherwood High School sits atop the 4A softball throne.
The Warriors appeared in seven of the last nine 4A state championship games and won five titles. After a loss in the final to Northwest High School in 2017, and an early postseason exit in 2018, the 20-1 Warriors returned to form on May 25, beating Glen Burnie by a score of 8-7.
The victory came as a result of hard work and the proper mindset, a mindset that Sherwood Head Coach Ashley Barber-Strunk said was lacking the two previous years.
“This year, we focused a lot on the mental game and confidence; a lot of the mental aspect along with the physical aspect,” said Barber-Strunk. “We knew there was something that had to change, and we weren’t sure what it was, but all we could tell was that last year, our mind wasn’t there. We were finished, and it was all mental. We had the capabilities, but we couldn’t pull it off.”
Despite pre-game nerves and jitters, Sherwood was in the right headspace against Glen Burnie, especially when the Gophers strung together four runs at the bottom of the seventh. After a slow start and then a big lead by Sherwood, it appeared as though the Gophers were sticking with their tried-and-true formula by getting hot late in the game and stealing a victory.
“That’s the way we’ve played all year,” said Glen Burnie Head Coach Dave Sauble. “The deficit was a little too much at the end, but just about every game in the playoffs, we’ve come back. Have you ever seen those horse racing movies where the horse has to pull back and let the other horse catch up? That’s what we’re like.”
However, as soon as the ball landed in the glove of Warriors first baseman Hannah Bowers for the third and final out, Bowers leaped off the base with arms outstretched as the Sherwood dugout poured onto the field to celebrate.
The win marked the first state title for junior Kayley Bina, whose sister McKenzie was a member of the Sherwood team that won multiple state championships and boasted a winning streak that spanned several years.
For Kayley, though, the championship win is just as special, even if it was a few years in the making.
“I was really happy for my sister going four years without losing a game, and when I came, it was really tough because almost the whole team was freshmen,” said Bina. “Ever since we saw the first championship game, we worked so hard to get there. Honestly, we’ve worked before we were even freshmen, when we knew we were coming to Sherwood.”
That hard work manifested itself on the field against Glen Burnie. Despite the fact that Sherwood had more errors in the championship matchup than in the previous six games combined, the Warriors did not let mistakes derail their focus.
After three quiet innings, outfielder Summer Green provided the spark the Warriors were searching for. The freshman slammed a hard hit to left field, which sent the Gophers scrambling and generated two runs. Junior outfielder Gracie Manlapaz followed up with two RBIs, and suddenly Sherwood was in the lead.
The Warriors never relinquished that lead, even when the Gophers threatened a comeback. Glen Burnie senior outfielder Gia Dickey treated the crowd to the only home run of the night and set the Gophers in motion to pull the win away from Sherwood at the last minute.
Barber-Strunk admitted that she was nervous when Glen Burnie started to score late in the bottom of the seventh inning.
“We were able to score, not early, and I read an article on (Glen Burnie) and they said they don’t like when they score early,” she said. “Coming back is a big thing, and we didn’t score early. And in these past games, we’ve scored early. We didn’t do that, and suddenly, it was like, ‘is something going to happen and when is it going to happen.’”
Barber-Strunk’s example of staying in the game until the very end was one that was close to home. Just 24 hours before the girls were scheduled to play, the Sherwood baseball team played against Old Mill High School in the 4A state championship game. The Sherwood boys led going into the seventh, but by the ninth inning, Old Mill tied the game and eventually won the state title.
“My thing was, I’m not happy that they lost, but what can we take away from it? The game’s not over until it’s over,” said Barber-Strunk. “That was the mindset that we had here, and they just kept hitting and hitting, and we just needed one out.”
That out came courtesy of Bowers, and while it was the closest margin of victory the Warriors had all year, it was enough for another banner and another trophy for Sherwood.
“I was a little bit nervous, but there were two outs, and I knew my team was going to finish it and not give up for a second,” said Green, her cheeks still wet from celebratory tears. Green finished the game with a team-high three RBI.
“I’m just proud,” said Bina. “Proud of the work we put in, proud of the effort we put in, proud of the heart we put in.”