On Saturday, March 25 the Northwest High School softball team traveled to Olney and slew the giant of Maryland softball.
The Lady Jags did something that no other team in Maryland has been able to do since 2011, and something that no Northwest softball team has been able to do since the school opened in 1998 – defeat the Sherwood Warriors 9-5. Sherwood was unbeaten in 105 games through the previous five seasons. The Warriors have won five-straight Division 4A Maryland State Championships going back to 2012, to call the Warriors softball program a powerhouse is an understatement.
“It is so good,” whispered senior captain Alexa Bowen through a Cheshire grin. “It was amazing. Finally, the moment that all of us have been waiting for happened.”
When asked what made this team different, what special power did this team have that allowed them to do what had not been done since the half the girls on the roster were in elementary school, Coach Michael Horton credited the team bonding which occurred during the team’s winter workouts.
Horton said the workouts and bonding created a team of “nasty” girls. He doesn’t mean disrespectful or dirty or immoral; Horton means that his team became lean, mean, and ready to win for each other. “The winter workouts and the team bonding that this team has done since October set this team up for this big win,” said Horton. “The workouts weren’t even softball related. It was all conditioning, but the girls really gelled and they became, for lack of a better word, nasty.”
The Lady Jags would meet every Tuesday and do yoga. The yoga and conditioning helped on build the girls’ core; it also helped build the team’s core. “Every Tuesday over the winter we did yoga,” said Bowen, “It was really fun because we would do a lot of partner work, and we would get to laugh at, and with each other as we worked to get more flexible and stronger.”
Horton said the winter workouts were mostly non-softball drills. He said, on one occasion the team did a tug-of-war against some of the Northwest football players, who were also in the gym doing their own conditioning workouts. “They went girls versus boys, and they were beating the boys, of course, there were more girls on the rope, but they weren’t going to give up an inch to the boys,” said Horton.
“The winter workouts made us stronger both as players and as a team,” said junior captain Chloe Hickman. “Everyone on this team has so much potential, and we respect each other for that, and it makes us stronger.”
Building that core group was important, as the Jags lost five seniors to graduation last spring and needed to have team-time to bond. There is three freshmen on the roster, two of which started and came up big Saturday’s victory. Freshman pitcher, Amber Yuille, pitched the entire game and freshman first baseman Kaylah Quassis went three-for-four at the plate, including two singles, an RBI, and a home run in the seventh inning to secure the victory.
“We immediately bonded with our freshman,” said Bowen, “which I think is hard for some other teams. Other teams may think that freshmen aren’t experienced or good enough to play.” However, this Jags softball team bonded over yoga and laughs throughout the winter. “We really love our freshman. Our freshmen are very much a part of us. Immediately, when we met them they completely became a part of the team. No matter what we’ve been doing at workouts, or team sleepovers, or going out to dinner — we are together, and we are equals no matter what grade level we are.”
Yuille, who pitched the game said she wasn’t nervous as a freshman facing a team like Sherwood because she knew her team was going to support her. “I definitely had confidence in our team,” said Yuille. “We could have lost that game, and no matter what I knew we would stick together as a team, and that helped boost my confidence. I walked up there confident and told myself, that if they get a hit, shake it off and strike out the next girl.”
Horton also credited his captains, Bowen, Hickman and Stanford with having this team ready to play Sherwood. “My three captains were instrumental in getting the girls fired up and getting the team mentally prepared for this game,” said Horton. “Coming into Sherwood week, we came in fired up. The girls were ready to go. We talked about how we were going to approach the game and attack them, and we executed on all levels. We beat them 9-5. It was a convincing win against a very, very good team.”
“The win was a huge achievement,” said Stanford, “I have played on this team for three years, we have never come together as a team the way we did on Saturday. Everybody was into it that day. We were all up from the first pitch to the last pitch. Everybody was high energy. I have never played a game where we’ve been 100 percent effort. We’ve played at 99 or 98 percent, but we’ve never been at 100 percent the way were for that game.”
“In years past, I think we could have been them,” said Stanford. “I think we were good enough to beat them last year, but in years past the mentality was ‘why can’t we beat them?’ Most teams go into playing them as if they have already lost the game and losing was inevitable. I think last year had that mentality too. This year we had the mentality of ‘Why not us? Let’s just beat them? Let’s just do it’ and we beat them.”
The Lady Jags took the lead early scoring three runs in the first inning and never looked back. Sherwood scored a run each in the second and third to cut the lead to 3-2, but Northwest came back with two runs each in the fourth as two Sherwood errors allowed Quassis and senior Emily Wiley to score. In the top of the fifth inning, the Lady Jags scored two more as senior Alexis Mack, who has committed to play Division I softball at St. Peter’s University, rocked a leadoff triple. Mack was a big part of the victory, going two for four at the plate, hitting a double and a triple, and scoring twice.
Sherwood threatened again in the bottom of the sixth scoring three runs to cut the lead to 8-5. In the top of the seventh inning freshman Kaylah Quassis rocked leadoff home run to extend the lead to 9-5. The Warriors were unable to score in their final at-bats, and the Lady Jags celebrated the upset.
The victory may be surprising but not shocking. The Lady Jags have had success in the past and continue to be among the better teams in Montgomery County. Last year Northwest was 14-2, with the two losses being a 10-7 loss to Sherwood in April 2016 and the 5-4 playoff loss to Wootton in May 2016.
Note: Mark Poetker contributed to this story.
Top: The “nasty” Lady Jags celebrate with their Coach Michael Horton at home plate after defeating Sherwood 9-5 on Saturday, ending the Warriors 105 game winning streak.
Next: Senior Alexa Bowen (13) is greeted by junior Karli Stanford (4) at home plate as she scores in the first inning.
Next: Freshman pitcher Amber Yuille (12) celebrates with her catcher Alexa Bowen.
Next: Senior Alexis Mack (00) slides safe into third base.
Next: Junior Kaylan King at bat during Saturday’s victory. She walked and scored once in the game.
Photos by Mark Poetker for Germantown Pulse.