The Class 4A West Region baseball and softball tournaments kicked off last week and both Northwest High School teams have already fared better this year than they did during a disappointing 2016 postseason. Winning a round or two, however, does not constitute success for either program, now established in the county’s upper echelon.
After a first-round bye, the top-seeded Jaguars were scheduled to host 2015 state champion Gaithersburg in Tuesday’s Section II semifinals. Northwest defeated the Trojans, 5-0, during the regular season but “everyone in the county is good,” coach Todd Varesco said, and playoffs are one and done—there’s no room for a subpar performance.
Should Northwest make it out of the section, a rematch with Bethesda-Chevy Chase—responsible for two of the Jaguars four defeats this spring—could loom ahead. But the good thing, Varesco said, is that each of Northwest’s losses could easily have gone the other way.
Northwest’s playoff prosperity will hinge on the stability of its pitching. The Jaguars’ offense, which hindered it a year ago, has been consistent—and has even bailed the defense out in a few victories. But, Varesco said, “when you give a team an extra two or three outs, you’re not going to win.” Timely hitting will also be important, he added.
“Our pitching has to be stellar,” Varesco said. “Last year we struggled offensively and our defense was stellar. We have to put it all together and hopefully we peak at the right time.”
Northwest certainly has all the pieces necessary to make a deep run this postseason, and one important intangible is that the Jaguars are committed to playing for each other. Through a few ups and downs this spring, “they never lost any faith in each other,” Varesco said. And the desire of each individual to perform for his teammates goes a long way.
Senior pitcher/shortstop and four-year varsity player Griffin Bubb has emerged this spring as Northwest’s most dependable strike thrower, Varesco said. Also a “stupendous shortstop,” he’s been a quiet leader and has risen to the occasion against Northwest’s toughest opponents. Senior first baseman Michael Yuille’s hard work has paid dividends this season. With Division I potential, Varesco said Yuille has been reliable on both sides of the ball. Originally slated as the backup first baseman, Zach Greber’s strength at the plate could not be denied—he’s been a strong designated hitter all season. East Carolina University recruit Josh Netterville has continued to impress with his speed and range in the outfield.
“A lot of the kids are playing real well,” Varesco said. “We have the talent to (win states) but we are just looking at beating whomever is in front of us.”
The second-seeded Jaguars softball team avenged last year’s heart-wrenching Section II semifinal defeat to Thomas S. Wootton with Monday’s 14-0 victory over the Patriots and was scheduled to play the winner of Tuesday’s section semifinal between No. 1 Quince Orchard and No. 4 Clarksburg on Wednesday. The Class 4A West Region final is scheduled for Friday.
Though Northwest fell to crosstown rival Quince Orchard in a back-and-forth game during the regular season, the Jaguars wouldn’t mind a rematch. Coming off a historic win over five-time defending state champion Sherwood, Northwest struggled to keep its emotions intact against the Cougars. But the Jaguars learned a valuable lesson that they’ve carried into playoffs, coach Mike Horton said: “Now they know just because of what happens the day before, you can’t ride on that with any team.”
Since making its first state tournament appearance in 2013, the 2015 state finalist Jaguars have consistently been in region title contention—and now truly believe they are worthy of their status and capable of winning states.
Freshman pitcher Amber Yuille, who got the win against Sherwood, has tallied 54 strikeouts in 31 innings of work. Sophomore Alex Karamihas, has provided tremendous support in the pitcher’s circle—the two complement each other well, Horton said. Junior and standout shortstop Karlie Stanford is having another great year on offense, batting .491 with a team-high 28 runs scored. Freshman first baseman Kaylah Qassis (.413) leads the team with 22 runs batted in and is second in runs scored with 25. Senior catcher Alexa Bowen (.404), freshman utility player Megan Ridenour (.500) and senior outfielders Alexis Mack (.431) and Emily Wiley (.407) have also been strong producers on offense.