Two major question marks hung over the Northwest High School softball team entering 2017: How would the Jaguars recover from the graduation of former four-year starting pitcher Bridgette Barbour—one of the county’s best hurlers in recent history, who took Northwest to new heights during her tenure? And would a younger squad, with only four returning starters, rise or cower in the face of adversity?
Based on its first three games—though it’s still very early in the season—Northwest (3-0 as of Sunday) appears to be just fine.
On Saturday, the Jaguars notched arguably the program’s biggest victory to date, ending five-time defending state champion Sherwood’s 105 game unbeaten streak with a 9-5 win. The Warriors’ last loss was to Montgomery Blair in the 2011 postseason.
High school sports are cyclical by nature; student-athletes graduate every year and are replaced the following season by a new generation. Some graduating classes are bigger than others, some more talented. But the ability to refuel rather than rebuild after losing a combination of both is what separates Montgomery County’s best—and is the mark of a true program. And that is exactly what Northwest has done this spring.
“People coming in now know they have to be at a certain level to play for Northwest,” second-year Coach Mike Horton said. “The feeder system here is pretty good now.”
High school softball revolves around strong pitching. Freshman pitcher Amber Yuille, who Horton said is remarkably poised despite her youth, boasts a 1.14 earned-run average through two games. Northwest can take comfort in a five-person pitching staff, including sophomore Alex Karamihas, who will also likely spend a considerable amount of time in the pitcher’s circle, which takes the pressure off Yuille but drives her as well, Horton said.
“(Yuille) is mentally tough; she does not get affected if something happens,” Horton said. “She’s the kind of pitcher that if something isn’t working, she’ll make adjustments and go to something different.”
Northwest’s skill and experience down the center—senior Alexa Bowen behind the plate, junior and third-year varsity starter Karlie Stanford at shortstop and senior Alexis Mack in center field—should be a strength this spring.
Horton said higher participation in offseason conditioning—the Jaguars have been training since October—helped the team become one close-knit unit, which has transferred onto the field.
The milestone victory over Sherwood certainly set the tone for what could be an extraordinary season for Northwest, which made its first state tournament in 2013 and reached the state final in 2015. But the Jaguars learned in last year’s unexpected section semifinal loss that it’s important not to take anything for granted, Horton said.