Sherwood baseball finding success through maturity
The 2021 Sherwood baseball team is taking seniority to a whole new level.
The Bowmen have eight seniors on their 14-person varsity roster, along with four juniors. They are using that age and experience to their benefit, having now won seven straight games.
Since dropping their season opener to Lakeridge, one of the state's best teams, Sherwood has run roughshod over its competition, besting league and nonleague opponents by an aggregate score of 67-8.
The pitching has been great, the defense has been up to the challenge, and offensively, the Bowmen have been hitting early and often, much to the pleasure of head coach Nate Hickok.
"I think what I like most is that we're getting early leads, but we're not just holding them," Hickok said, "we're continuing to add on as the game goes on, and playing really sound."
Hickok points to his roster's maturity as one of the primary reasons for Sherwood's early success.
"Having some of that upperclassmen maturity is definitely helping us," he said. "I think it really helps us in practice, and just the way that we've been able to play consistently for the last couple of weeks — it's a great help."
Much of that can be attributed to junior pitcher Ian Umlandt. The University of Oregon commit has been "outstanding" thus far, per his coach, having yet to give up an earned run in his first three starts and boasting a no-hitter, while also batting leadoff for the Bowmen.
"He's just an excellent all-around player," Hickok said. "He's been our ace on the mound and is having a really, really strong season with the bat as well."
Beyond Umlandt, the coach said the team's depth is at a level he's not before seen during his time at Sherwood. Specifically, he mentioned catcher Josh Woods, who moved behind the plate from his usual infield position, along with Caden Davis, whom the coach said is one of the team's better two-way players. But ultimately, Hickok said there's just too much depth and talent on his team to single individual players out.
"Really, I could list like nine guys," the coach said. "We've had a lot of great offensive performances and really sound defense from basically one through nine, maybe 10."
It's not been all upperclassmen for the Bowmen, however, for there have been contributions from the team's younger constituents as well.
Ian Umlandt's freshman brother Nolan has shown promise in limited action on the mound, and Hickok said he's certainly someone they trust in a relief role in big situations. Also, sophomore outfielder Nick Gribble has started a handful of games thus far, is likely the team's fastest player and is making the most of his time at the varsity level.
"He's getting a ton of great experience," Hickok said. "And he brings a ton of great all-around play."
Experience is something the coach said he's had a hard time getting kids this season, due primarily to the league's 2021 rule that ends the game after five innings if a team is up 10 or more runs. The coach said he understands the spirit of the rule, but in a year already shortened due to COVID-19, he'd prefer to maximize any opportunity to get his kids on the field.
"It's really taken away some opportunities to get these guys some more reps and more innings," Hickok said. "It's frustrating because we have some seniors that don't get a ton of time, so being able to get them more time during their senior years is something I'd really like to do, but can't."
Different from a lot of teams in the area, Hickok said the Bowmen has come through the pandemic pretty well regarding level of play. He said they were able to practice for roughly six weeks this past summer and also took advantage of a six-week window this past fall. He believes they have been better for it this season.
He also noted the benefit of their new artificial turf baseball field, which was one of the perks that came along with the new Sherwood High School, which opened this school year.
"Our previous field was fine but basically allowed us to do nothing but hit in our practice facility for much of the spring due to weather," Hickok said. "This new facility which has both a grass and turf field, allows us year-around work. It's absolutely been a game-changer."
Sherwood's 7-1 record and play to this point would likely put the Bowmen amongst the state's elite programs this year, and a threat come playoff time given normal circumstances. But due to the shortened season and the limited time for postseason play, the 6A classification has opted for a round-robin tournament to end the year, featuring the metro-area leagues' top-two finishers. Hickok hopes to be a part of that group, and despite a bit of frustration regarding the chosen format, the coach aims to be there.
And as far as goals from here out? Sherwood, while having a lot of success at the 5A level, has yet to win a league title in its handful of years in the 6A classification. Hickok said that's definitely on the team's radar, and something he said they'd unquestionably be proud of.
"I think that if we were able to make that happen," Hickok said, "I think it would be a big achievement for our seniors, who have definitely dealt with a lot."
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