Eastern Oregon-bound Sherwood senior pitcher Faith McHill has struck out 42 in 24 1/3 innings this season. (Photo by Katie Karl)
Eastern Oregon-bound Sherwood senior pitcher Faith McHill has struck out 42 in 24 1/3 innings this season. (Photo by Katie Karl)

Despite all that Sherwood's young softball team accomplished in making the 6A semifinals last season, just getting to the starting line for 2024 proved to be a challenge.

Shortly after last season, Mikal Morris resigned after six years as the team's coach. Mike Bennett was hired as her replacement, but stepped down last month.

Fortunately for the Bowmen, Alex Flores – an experienced travel ball coach who lives in Sherwood and has given lessons to many of the players – was available and willing to take the job. She was hired on the second day of tryouts.

“I needed to know that these girls have a coach,” said Flores, a 2013 Liberty graduate who played at Portland State and spent one season as the head coach at Warner Pacific University. “I need to feel like they're taken care of.”

With a 9-0 start, Flores has been able to build on the momentum the Bowmen generated last season, when they won the Pacific Conference and finished 22-7 after falling to 6A champion Sheldon 2-0 in the semifinals.

“I was a little nervous at the beginning because I've never coached high school,” Flores said. “Just seeing all the girls when I came out to practice, it made me really excited.”

Sherwood had high hopes for the season after returning its entire roster, including two outstanding pitchers in senior Faith McHill and junior Destiny Cornwell, a 6A second-team selection.

The Bowmen, No. 4 in the OSAAtoday 6A coaches poll, have delivered so far by outscoring their opponents 61-7. They have defeated 5A No. 3 Bend 9-2, 5A No. 7 Wilsonville 6-0, 5A No. 6 Lebanon 1-0 and 6A No. 7 South Salem 5-1.

“It's been really cool to see how they've developed,” Flores said. “These girls are just scratching the surface. They have so much talent. … I'm going to say all day that these girls have what it takes to take it all.”

Sherwood, which has nine sophomores and one freshman on its roster, is loaded with young talent. Much will depend, though, on the leadership provided by the team's four seniors: McHill, shortstop Payton Abiley, third baseman Elaina Harris and first baseman Kailyn Engels.

Abiley has signed to play in college at Toledo. McHill and Engels plan to continue their careers at Eastern Oregon and Felician University (N.J.), respectively.

“I talked to them about how they're leaving a legacy,” Flores said. “They're going to be crucial to this season, but they're also setting the foundation for what's to come.”

McHill and Cornwell are sharing time in the circle. In 24 1/3 innings, McHill has struck out 42 and has a 0.58 ERA. In 30 2/3 innings, Cornwell has fanned 40 and has a 0.69 ERA.

“I don't see things as No. 1 or No. 2, I see it as who's on and who's not, and how are you still going to contribute to the pitching staff,” Flores said of balancing between McHill and Cornwell. “They're going to communicate with me when their bodies are tired. We're going to lean on each other.”

Sophomore center fielder Camryn Knight, a slap hitter, continues in her role as the leadoff hitter. Through nine games, she is hitting .333 and leads the team in runs (12) and stolen bases (nine).

Sophomore second baseman Daisha Cornwell and Abiley (nine RBIs) follow Knight in the order, setting the table for the cleanup hitter, junior catcher McKenna Parmelee (.393, two home runs, 10 RBIs).

The Bowmen are getting excellent production in the No. 9 spot from sophomore right fielder Maisy Schindler, who is batting .524 with three triples and five RBIs. Engels is hitting .500.

To win the title in the Pacific, Sherwood must contend with third-ranked McMinnville (8-1). Last season, the teams split two conference games and the Bowmen won at McMinnville 9-4 in the state quarterfinals.

Regardless of how it plays out, Flores said she and her staff are intent on making it “the best season yet.”

“The girls feel it. They know I'm a coach that's going to have their back, even when they fail, because I've been that player,” she said. “This season is theirs for the taking, and I'm excited to be a part of it.”