Mark Montgomery already had a shortstop commit for the 2022 class.
When the Maryland softball coach made the recruiting trip out West, he was doing so to watch current Terps freshman closer Keira Bucher. Montgomery had no intention of watching anyone else on the field. He was just there to support Bucher.
But Montgomery’s scouting eye was naturally drawn to the middle infielders, and he noticed that he kept paying attention to a tall, lanky shortstop he had never heard of.
“I’m like, holy shit, who is this kid?” Montgomery said.
It was Sammi Woods, a talented unknown shortstop from Southern California. Montgomery and Woods had one thing in common though — they had never heard of each other.
“I didn’t even know Maryland really existed before [Montgomery] talked to me,” Woods said.
Woods quickly found out who Montgomery was. When the coach saw her impress during warmups, he became immediately interested, and after watching Woods play in an actual game setting, he extended an offer to the talented infielder.
Woods has a natural flair to her game, drawing viewers to her throws on the run, the backhand stabs in the hole and her precise arm across the diamond. While Montgomery was watching, the infielder snagged an errant throw out of the air and contorted her body to complete a double play. It reminded Montgomery of Derek Jeter’s famous jump throws.“I saw her go from a submarine throw, to an over the shoulder rotating throw in the air, in two plays,” Montgomery said.
Maryland already had received a commitment from a shortstop, leaving Woods out of the picture. But Montgomery discovered the recruit was not as invested in Maryland as the coach once thought.
“The inappropriate piece was that while committed to us, [the previous commit] was still reaching out to other people. We just don’t tolerate that, you commit to us you’re all in,” Montgomery said.
Montgomery pulled the offer. It left the Terps with a hole at shortstop for the 2023 season. He wanted the void to be filled by Woods, who was surprised to learn of Maryland’s interest.
“One of my coaches… said ‘Hey, congrats on the offer.’ I was like ‘what offer?’” Woods said.
Montgomery and Woods’ early conversations made the infielder confident it was the program that fit her best. She also appreciated the coach’s willingness to let her outgoing nature shine.
Woods’ flashy play on the field comes alongside an endless supply of energy. Her Maryland teammates call Woods the “puppy” on the team for her energetic and unrelenting style. The shortstop has a never-ending motor, one that hasn’t slowed down this year. It’s why she’s been able to start in every game for the Terps as a freshman.
Woods expected to be competing for a starting job when she arrived at Maryland. Because of the pressure, she tried to make every play look tough, resulting in sloppy mistakes.
“[Tune it down] was being said everyday or every other day,” Montgomery said.
Despite the mistakes, she was the starting shortstop on opening day against then-No. 22 Oregon. Woods recorded her first hit and didn’t make an error in the win.
The shortstop made only one error in Maryland’s first 21 games. Woods’ first roadblock of the season came on her birthday when the Terps played at Indiana. She made two errors in a doubleheader against the Hoosiers, both Maryland losses.“That was a rough day, I definitely was really emotional,” Woods said.
Woods went back to the basics after the messy performance. Assistant coach Emerald Doria worked with her to ensure she stayed on the back of her legs and didn’t rely on her arm as much.
The freshman has only made two errors in the 16 games since. Woods has also been productive at the plate, batting out the ninth spot often. The positive output is partly due to her frequently seeing first pitch strikes, Woods said.
“We’ve kept as much pressure off her offensively as we can, so that she could really focus in on doing the defensive work,” Montgomery said.
Fielding is where the shortstop’s value lies. Woods and third baseman Michaela Jones lead a defense that ranks second in the Big Ten in fielding percentage.
Woods has begun to pair her flair with a heightened softball intellect. A recent play, which the shortstop called her favorite play of the season, exemplified those abilities.
On April 15 against Iowa, the Big Ten’s leading hitter Nia Carter hit a sharp ground ball to third base. Jones’ poor throw missed the first baseman and trickled to the right field wall. A speedy Carter rounded first and raced for second as the ball continued to roll.
Woods saw that Carter was looking at her instead of Iowa’s third base coach. The shortstop acted as if a throw was incoming, applying a fake tag on Carter. The Hawkeye slid into second base, even though she could have easily advanced to third.
“But I love to trick or cheat, not really cheating the system, but I love plays like this,” Woods said. “When I was younger, I watched millions of compilations of ‘MLB best and smartest IQ plays’ … I did get that idea from there.”
The fake tag against Iowa encapsulates the type of defender Woods is. Equipped with a refined technique after 46 games of experience, she’s the starting shortstop for a team looking to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2012.
When Montgomery thinks of Woods, he doesn’t only consider the player she is today. He imagines her becoming the face of Maryland’s resurgence.
“She’s got a chance one day to be our Cal Ripken,” Montgomery said.