Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sherwood softball reaches regional final

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Sherwood junior shortstop Taylor Stockinger distinctly remembers the terrible feeling in the pit of her stomach after the Warriors' disheartening, 5-4, eight-inning loss at home to Wootton back on April 24 - a loss which cost the team its third straight division title.

Stockinger made sure the feeling didn't come back in Wednesday's Class 4A West Region semifinal against the Patriots in Sandy Spring, though, connecting on a two-run double with two outs in the bottom of the fifth inning to give Sherwood the 2-1 lead it eventually won the game by.

The second-seeded Warriors (16-2 record) will play at No. 1 Gaithersburg (16-2), a 10-6 winner over No. 4 Richard Montgomery in Wednesday's other semifinal, Friday at 4 p.m. for a spot in the state Class 4A semifinals. It will be Sherwood's fourth consecutive regional final appearance - the Warriors won the Class 4A North Region last year before falling 3-2 to Anne Arundel County's Chesapeake in the state semifinals. Gaithersburg won the Class 4A West Region in 2006.

‘‘We were looking forward to [Wednesday's] game,” Stockinger said. ‘‘We want to go as far as we can and do as well as we can. I'm not saying I'd rather lose the division, but it's better to stay in the tournament now and try to win states than to go home.”

Uncharacteristic errors, mental mistakes and an inability to connect on timely hits cost Sherwood the division title in the teams' previous meeting. But the Warriors learned from that and displayed Wednesday the efficient, team-oriented softball that's made them one of the best teams in the county this season.

The Warriors have a new identity this year. Without one or two superstars to rely on, wins are often team efforts. Everyone has settled nicely into their respective roles. It's brought the team closer together and they thrive off that camaraderie.

‘‘We've made the changes we needed to make and we've really worked together to move forward and everything seems to be clicking now,” said senior Kathy Holonich, who moved to fill a void a first base this year after starting in right field the past three years. ‘‘We wanted this win so bad. It's kind of fitting it came down to a nail-biter.”

Wootton (15-5) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fifth inning when second baseman Emma Barlock singled to right field, reached second on right fielder Sara Biron's single and then crossed the plate on Rachel Laufer's infield single to shortstop.

Part of what makes Sherwood so dangerous is its depth on offense - anyone, anywhere in the lineup is capable of cracking a solid hit. The Warriors, who boast a .300 team batting average, retaliated in the bottom of the fifth. Sophomore second baseman Kat Korrea, batting in the No. 9 slot Wednesday, led off with a single to left field. She and four-year staring center fielder Kelly Morrow, who walked, scored on Stockinger's double.

Sherwood junior left-handed pitcher Erin McMakin, playing in her first regional tournament, maintained her composure nicely throughout Wednesday's contest. The Patriots threatened in the seventh with runners on second and third and their cleanup batter at the plate. But McMakin, who tallied five strikeouts, seemed unfazed.

‘‘You've got nine, one and two coming up and the No. 9 batter gets on base, a lot of pitchers would be panicking,” Sherwood coach Pat Flanagan said. ‘‘But if Erin panics, I've never seen it. She just goes out there and goes about her business. She never looks over here like, 'I need help; get me out of here.' She never looks to anyone to take responsibility for anything. And that's pretty good for a first-year varsity pitcher.”

Wootton junior pitcher Andi Garnher held Sherwood to just six hits Wednesday. And, led by Biron, shortstop Rachel Baron and third baseman Jessica Rinn, Wootton tallied nine hits. It just couldn't deliver when it needed to most - the Patriots stranded 10 runners.

Wednesday's loss, though disappointing, won't tarnish Wootton's best season in more than a decade. The Patriots, who won 13 of their last 15 games, won the program's first division title since 1989. And they made it one step further in the regional tournament than they did a year ago. With the majority of this year's squad slated to return in 2009, Wootton is already looking forward to next season's prospects.

‘‘We knew to win [at Sherwood] twice would be difficult,” Wootton coach Alton Lightsey said. ‘‘I challenge any team in the county to win here twice. I was really impressed with the girls this season and I expect to be right in the mix again next year.”

Notes: Damascus reached its fourth consecutive regional final, defeating Bethesda-Chevy Chase, 13-3, in five innings in Wednesday's Class 3A West Region semifinals. Paint Branch defeated Einstein, 19-2, in five innings Wednesday in the Class 3A West Region quarterfinals and will host Urbana in the semifinals Thursday at 4 p.m. Clarksburg lost, 2-1, to Century in the Class 2A West Region semifinals Wednesday.