TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – The Sickles High School softball team is currently the top ranked team in the state of Florida and the second ranked team in the entire country, according to MaxPreps.
The Gryphons actually held the top seed in the country only days ago but, due to the schedules and the successes of the opposing teams, they have dropped to the second seed. Regardless, this team is a force on the field starting the season with six consecutive wins.
“We have only had one player play every single game,” said the Gryphons head coach, Al Bowman. “We are deep. We have 20 girls on the roster. Each and every one of them has a different role, a different skillset so, when you have that many tools, it gives you a lot of flexibility.”
Reese Wimberly, a junior captain on the team, is currently excelling as a shortstop. However, she previously played in the outfield.
“It has been definitely like a leadership role,” she said, “to step up and take that position because it is not a position I usually play but it has been fun transitioning to the infield and being able to back up our pitcher and talk with her.”
Wimberly has not committed any errors in the field this season and, when she steps to the plate, she is picking her pitches perfectly. Wimberly possesses a .538 batting average and she has three RBIs in four games.
“It has been really fun,” she said when she was asked about the success of her team. “I think it is because we all get along very well and we know how to have fun but, then, we also know how to be serious and play well and it has, overall, been really fun playing with everyone.”
Bianca Bartow is the starting catcher for the Gryphons. Although she did not earn that starting position as a freshman, the sophomore is playing at an elite level. She has thrown out three of five baserunners who tried to steal a bag.
“She has filled that role,” said Bowman. “She is not playing like a sophomore who had limited experience last year. She is playing like a four-year starter.”
“I feel pretty confident doing it,” admitted Bartow, “because my pitcher is really good. It kind of boosts my confidence having a good pitcher and knowing that I will be able to work with her.”
Bartow highlighted Robyn Herron, a junior pitcher, but the entire pitching staff is talented.
“Last year, we were a pretty strong team too,” said Bartow, “but I feel like, this year, we came out a lot more confident and a lot stronger because we bond really well together.”
She shared that that togetherness has helped the team earn that top ranking.
“I was surprised,” said Bartow, “and I was really proud of us because we have worked really hard this season to get here.”
The news arrived when they were finishing a recent practice.
“One of the girls, who had not been involved in the drill we were doing, was packing up and caught her phone,” recalled Bowman, “and at the same time my phone dinged.”
“She was like, ‘We are ranked number one!’ and we were like, ‘No way! That is not real!’ but, yes, it was cool,” said Wimberly.
“I was not surprised that we were number one in the state,” said Bowman, “but, in the country, did catch me off guard a little bit.”
Bowman allowed his players to enjoy that moment but, now, he feels they are focused on the remainder of the season.
“They understand that, to hold one of those top ratings, it is a lot harder than it is to reach it so it is another motivation level to keep working, working hard,” he said. “They have goals of reaching state, winning certain games, winning tournaments and I think that that adds another layer of motivation for them to try to hold one of those top rankings.”
The 2020 Sickles High School softball team only played six games before COVID-19 canceled the season. They finished with a 2-4 record.
The 2019 Sickles High School softball team lost in the regional championship game to the Lakewood Ranch Mustangs. The team lost six seniors at the end of this season and five of those seniors started for the Gryphons.