New year, same goal: Fort Spain softball team aim for first class 6A state title
A year after the coronavirus pandemic wrested its dreams of a 2020 state championship, the Fort’s Spanish softball team wasted no time in 2021.
The Toros got off to an 11-1 start after Tuesday’s win in Baldwin County and are focused on the goal COVID-19 won last March.
“Our goal has been the same for two years now,” said Lauren Stewart, third year coach of Spanish Fort. “Since we left this land in Montgomery in May 2019 with a bad taste in our mouths, the goal was to come back, and we have the components to do it.”
Spanish Fort lost to Brookwood 4-2 in 11 innings at the 2019 State Tournament.
At this point, the Toros were two wins away from playing for the Class 6A crown. A year ago, the team was 9-1-1 when the season was interrupted.
The target for 2021 is the same, but Stewart said his team’s attitude is different.
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âIt’s more about making the most of each day,â she said. âI think we’re less afraid of what will happen tomorrow and more of a goal of making every day count. The goal is to win a state championship, and we want to do whatever it takes to make it happen. Whatever we do, it must be aimed at winning a state championship. We’ve been very thorough in this area, and it’s cool to see.
Stewart said once the team were able to resume training this year, they focused on just one goal.
âThe girls took it personally and had this mentality of leaving everything on the pitch,â she said. âWe know this could be the year. At Spanish Fort, softball is one of the few sports that hasn’t won a state championship. We wish we could change that this year, especially after what happened last year and all the emotions surrounding it. “
Notable changes have not happened only on the ground.
Rather, it was the changes from the diamond that changed this team’s view on sport and life.
âWe have really changed the way we treat each other,â said Stewart. âWe always say, ‘I love you. We make lots of hugs. We know our time is so limited. It’s more of a family aspect now. I think it’s probably because we can’t be together for six months. So when we got back together the kids loved it so much and loved being together and it became a part of who we are. It totally made the difference in our strong start.
It didn’t hurt that Spanish Fort had an experienced squad, led by a dynamic 1-2 punch in the circle.
Seniors Ainsley Lambert (Oregon state signatory) and Hannah Atwood (Chipola) combined 11 wins and 114 strikeouts. Lambert is 6-0 with 84 strikeouts in 41 innings. She allowed three earned runs and eight walks for a .504 ERA. (These statistics predate Tuesday’s game). Atwood has four wins and 30 strikeouts with a 1.54 ERA.
âThey’re killing him,â Stewart said. “They are doing exactly what we thought they would do.”
Spanish Fort has lost just four players as of 2020 – a pair of seniors and a pair of players who have chosen to focus on volleyball. Several players have stepped up to fill those voids, including second-year transfer Maddie Casstevens and eighth-grader Haley Hart.
Casstevens leads the team in hits and has an average of .300. Stewart has described her as a triple threat main hitter who can cushion, punch, or punch for power. Hart leads the team on home runs and hasn’t made any shortstop errors in 11 games. âShe’s playing at an extremely high level and is as mature as she gets for a college shortstop,â said Stewart.
Other key players include junior receiver Hannah Weishaar, junior outfielder / pitcher Tabitha Frazier and junior first baseman Sarah James.
âIt’s fun to watch,â said Stewart. âThey are competitive and we are a very difficult team to face. We are playing well in defense. We don’t make a ton of mistakes. So between that and our throws, we should be a very tough team to beat. “
Stewart also knows that neither she nor the team can take anything for granted.
“My main concern for us is that we can’t just do our best offensively and defensively,” she said. âWe have to be 100 percent all the time. We can’t run 80 percent because that can be enough sometimes. We have to be 100% everyday, no matter who we play. I think it happened on Saturday (in the loss to Springville). I think complacency set in, and we couldn’t get back to it.
The Toros play at Fairhope on Thursday.