TAMPA — When the early high school softball rankings came out for this season, Sickles was ranked No. 1 in the entire country by MaxPreps.
Granted, several areas of the country had yet to start playing when the rankings appeared, but still: No. 1 in America?
The Gryphons admitted it was a lot to process, especially given that last year through six games — before the pandemic shut down the 2020 season — they were only 2-4.
“At first it did mean a lot to see (the No. 1 national ranking), and I do think it got in our heads a little bit,” said junior ace Robyn Herron, one of the main reasons for the lofty expectations.
“But then we snapped out of it and realized we have to keep our focus on each day and each game and not get caught up in the rankings and publicity. We know the only thing that really matters is how we’re playing on the field.”
So far, so good.
Through 15 games Sickles is undefeated, and though its ranking has dropped to No. 13 nationally and No. 6 overall in Florida (mainly due to strength of schedule algorithms), expectations remain extremely high.
“We are enjoying all of this so much,” Herron said. “It’s 100 percent the most fun we’ve ever had during a season. We look forward to playing every game.”
None more so than Thursday at 7 against visiting Newsome, which this week took over Florida’s No. 1 ranking with a record of 17-0 after winning the prestigious Kissimmee Klassic.
“I would say we come into the game as the underdog and that’s fine with us,” Sickles coach Al Bowman said. “We will just play as well as we possibly can and see what happens. It should be a lot of fun for everybody.”
With Herron on the mound and a stellar defense behind her, the Gryphons can hang with anyone, even Newsome, which has averaged more than eight runs a game. Sickles, meantime, counters by allowing an average of fewer than one run a game.
Herron, in particular, has been lights out, going 11-0 with a 0.29 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 71.2 innings.
The only concern, though minimal, is getting more consistency on the offensive side. The Gryphons do feature several formidable hitters — including sophomore third baseman DaNia Brooks (.460 average, 11 RBIs, two homers), sophomore catcher Bianca Bartow (.400, seven RBIs), Herron (.394), senior outfielder Abby Gudenkauf (.379, seven RBIs) and junior shortstop Reese Wimberly (.359, 12 runs scored) — but Bowman would like to see more offensive production throughout the lineup.
“We can’t rely too much on our pitching and defense all the time,” Bowman said. “You have to score to win and we’re working on raising our offensive output each day.”
For now, Herron, who has interest from several Division I-A schools but has not yet committed, says the entire team is happy and feeling confident with the way things are progressing.
“I think we have shocked a lot of people this season for a lot of reasons, but none of this has been a shock to us,” said Herron, who has improved after an intense offseason of conditioning and fine-tuning her arsenal of pitches. “We feel prepared for this. We are confident in what we can do.”