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Sumner's energy, bats overwhelm Plant in district battle

Sumner P Aliyanis Stubbs delivers a pitch against Plant on Feb. 29, 2024.

RIVERVIEW – When Sumner opened up camp this spring, its softball coaching staff looked around the room and realized that there might be a little more talent than what they had anticipated in their clubhouse. On paper, it was hard to deny that the Stingrays had lot quite a bit of offensive production through their first senior class in program history.


So far in 2024, Sumner’s youth has stepped up in a major way. The Stingrays used a five-run sixth to knock off defending Class 7A Runner-Up Plant, 8-3, on Thursday night in a Class 7A-District 7 clash.


“They don’t realize how good they are yet,” head coach Autum Hernandez said. “They also don’t realize the pressure yet. I think that helps them a little bit.”


The Stingrays didn’t blink when Steinbrenner came to town on Opening Night. They beat them 11-5. They didn’t blink when Plant rolled in at 3-0 and hadn’t allowed a run in 14 innings. Jaelyn Joiner notched a leadoff hit, then catcher Karlee Salisbury quickly tripled her in on a drive to left field. Starting pitcher Aliyanis Stubbs helped her own cause with a sacrifice fly and Sumner jumped out to a 2-0 advantage.


Stubbs said their ability to score runs early in games is something that has caught the opposition off-guard, because of what they lost to graduation.


“We can hit. I feel like that’s what people didn’t expect us to do since we were senior heavy and they were some of our best hitters,” she said.


Freshman Victoria Baker brought in Stubbs on a suicide squeeze in the third after the sophomore hit a leadoff single and reached third on an error. She’d later triple in the fifth, part of a 3-for-3, two extra base hit night to go along with a tremendous evening in the circle. Stubbs struck out 14 and limited Plant to just four hits, a walk and only one big inning.


The Panthers tied the game in the sixth on three unearned runs after Kate-Mitchell Compton reached on an error with one out. Two plays later, an RBI fielder’s choice from Graci Quinlan brought Compton in, then after Addison Swink singled, Anabel Ramirez came up with the big hit of the inning, a sharp line drive to right that brought in Sunny Nyilas and Swink.


Stubbs walked Audrey Perkins, then struck out her opposite number to keep the game tied.


“She’s doing a great job at controlling her emotions,” Hernandez said. “She’s a vital part of our offense, which doesn’t give her time to breathe, sometimes. We’ve been working on getting her to stay calm when she’s in the dugout. Sometimes, you can see it in her body language that she’s too hyped up or too low. We have a couple of things we say and then she regroups, but we’re just trying to get a happy medium from her, because she’s such a vital part of both sides of the lineup.”


Stubbs was right in the mix of things again during Sumner’s rally in the home half, but not before Salisbury came up with her second go-ahead hit of the night, this one a double to right that made it 4-3. Three pitches later, Stubbs doubled to left to bring in a pair, then Sa’Myra Cameron and Baker hit back-to-back RBI knocks to match and surpass what Plant put on the board.


“You can’t do anything when you’re all up in your head, so we had to take that deep breath and take it one pitch at a time,” Salisbury said about Sumner’s approach in the inning.


A couple of strikeouts in the seventh sent Plant packing and sent Sumner to another victory over a team that not many people expected it would beat this season.


“It honestly feels good,” Stubbs said. “And I’m so sorry to say that coming out here, you don’t understand how stressful it was. We haven’t beat Plant in the last two years, it was just a lot. Coming out here, beating Steinbrenner, beating Plant, beating those big schools, that right there is a big thing in our season.”


Obviously, there are quite a few games left to go for Sumner. Thursday’s win was another big stepping stone for that group, which will likely see the Panthers again in the Class 7A-District 7 Tournament in May. They’ve had a few of those stepping stones in the program’s short, yet eventful four-year existence.


“Our graduating class last year definitely set a precedent and set a standard that we still operate under for practices and games and pre-game. They are a great bunch. Have to give a shoutout to our dugout, because they were extremely important tonight. It’s contagious, the positivity that they’re trying to have and the calmness that the senior class had last year is starting to come to fruition with the young ones,” Hernandez said.


Sumner starts a back-to-back on Wednesday with a trip to Manatee County to face defending Class 5A State Champion Parrish Community, while Plant has a tough task ahead of them when it hosts district foe Steinbrenner on Tuesday.

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