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Montgomery County Gazette

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sherwood softball trying to get back to where it belongs

by Jennifer Beekman | Staff Writer
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One half-inning lapse cut Sherwood softball’s first state tournament appearance since 1984 short in 2007 — the Warriors outhit Chesapeake of Anne Arundel County, 5-2, but lost to it 3-2 in last year’s state semifinals. The majority of that stellar squad is back in 2008 looking to replace that haunting memory with the Warriors’ first-ever state title when the regional tournament kicks off Friday — draws were announced Tuesday afternoon and were unavailable at press time.
To do so, Sherwood will have to weather a field of strong contenders, including 2006 state semifinalist Gaithersburg, and the likes of Wootton, Richard Montgomery, Blair, Magruder and Northwest, though.

‘‘I think anyone can win [this region],” Blair coach Louie Hoelman said. ‘‘There have been a lot of close games this year. Every week you’re surprised at the result of a game. I think that’s going to make playoffs interesting.”

Sherwood, a regional finalist the last three years, has a new dynamic in 2008, a more team-oriented one. No longer reliant on shutdown pitching, though sophomore left-handed pitcher Erin McMakin does average eight strikeouts per game, the Warriors are powered by overall team balance.

Led by senior first baseman Kathy Holonich, who’s batting .375, four-year starting center fielder Kelly Morrow (.353), catcher Shayna Popkin (.370), McMakin (.333) and three-year starting shortstop Taylor Stockinger (.333), Sherwood is batting .300 as a team. And it’s backing that up with a stingy defense — the Warriors boast a .950 fielding percentage.

‘‘Hey, I like our chances,” Sherwood coach Pat Flanagan says. ‘‘We have a new identity this year. We’re relying less on one person this year and that’s good. It’s not like, ‘Oh this person is having a bad game, we’re screwed.’ It’s been a combined effort. I can’t ask Erin to do anything more than she has. Everyone is doing their part. And hopefully we’re hitting our stride at the right time.”

Gaithersburg’s offense has been overpowering in 2008. Led by four-year starting shortstop Becca Kirshner (.543), senior Brittany Merrick (.490) and junior catcher Colleen Everett, who’s tallied a team-high five home runs, Gaithersburg is batting .344 as a team with 12 home runs.

The Trojans have outscored their opponents 128-21 and maintaining that offensive production in playoffs will be crucial to their success. Gaithersburg has also cut down on errors this spring — it’s only committed 13 errors in 14 games. And it has two solid pitchers to work with in junior Veronica Ciany and freshman Julie Hance.

Wootton has won 13 of its last 14 contests, including a 5-4, extra-inning win over Sherwood to clinch the Montgomery 4A East Division title, it’s first since 1989. Junior shortstop Rachel Baron (.414) and senior third baseman Jessica Rinn (.360) helm Wootton’s offense, which is batting about .280 as a whole.

But the Patriots’ strength lies within its defensive prowess. One of, if not the strongest defenses in the county, Wootton has thrived off its ability to make the big plays when it needs to — its won three of four extra-inning games.

Richard Montgomery can never be overlooked. A constant threat to the region, the Rockets boast a much-improved offense in 2008. And sophomore pitcher Kristen Hutchinson has settled into her role nicely, tallying about 10 strikeouts per game. Young and erratic last season she’s really honed in on her control this spring.

The Rockets will look to strong performances from Hutchinson, senior catcher Jocelyn Pickering, who’s leading the team offensively, freshman shortstop Shelby Riley, sophomore second baseman Kelsey Boyd and senior center fielder Jill Eckhardt.

Despite losing all nine starters from last year’s region semifinalist squad, Blair has still bunted, slapped and dragged its way through this season fairly successfully. An extremely speedy bunch the Blazers are crafty and their unique short-ball play can rattle even the strongest squads. Blair is led by senior first baseman Hilary Bragg and senior center fielder and leadoff batter Katie Scott, who boasts a .500 on-base percentage.

Magruder and Northwest are dangerous floaters. If they can cut down on some of the costly errors and mental mistakes that tend to arise at inopportune times, both are capable of pulling off an upset. Magruder is led by junior Carly Miller and seniors Agnes Lubon and Grace Batterden.

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