The Eagles, who will be making the trip to the capital city on Thursday to participate in the AHSAA State Tournament, have been a qualifying team for the sixth-consecutive year — walking away with a title in 2010.
Though the 2013 squad — composed primarily of sophomores, freshmen and eighth-graders — took an early exit from last year’s tournament, the experience garnered by the deep postseason run along with team’s hard work at progressing has reaped tremendous results. The Eagles not only have increased the record from 30-27 in 2013 to 46-13-1 this year, but also captured Area 10 and North Central Region Tournament championships.
Through the extensive schedule and playing in several weekend tournaments during the year, Sumiton Christian has not only played, but defeated ranked teams from every classification — including Class 4A, No. 1 Alabama Christian Academy and Class 5A, No. 1 Hayden.
Since the beginning of postseason play, the Eagles have been nothing short of stellar — outscoring their opponents 69-5 in six contests, including victories over Class 1A’s third and 10th-ranked teams.
Sumiton Christian coach Jessica Aderholt said that her team’s strong work ethic, together with continual growth of the players’ skills have been keys to the Eagles improvement from last season.
“Last year, we were a few players short of being where we needed to be — with the one player that we lost to graduation, we’ve actually had two that have added to our roster, which has been a really big help for us,” Aderholt said. “I also think that how hard they work and their team bond has had a great deal to do with the strides we’ve made. More than anything, they’ve all really learned what it means to be part of a team. When someone’s been down, someone’s been there to pick them right up. We’re playing really good ball right now and we hope that will continue.”
Two of the team’s veteran players, senior Katlyn Sides and junior Kirsten Click, were a part of the Eagles’ 2010 state championship team. Highlighting their experience within the program and being a member of different teams for the past half-decade, both players agree that the close bond that has emerged throughout the squad this season makes it unique.
“Just like the 2010 team, there’s no in-fighting with us this year. I think our team chemistry is much better than we’ve had in years,” Katlyn said. “We’ve always had the talent here, but this season we’ve worked together really well — which has been the most important thing that has developed. Winning a state championship is not about the team who has the best talent, but about the team that works together and works the hardest together.”
“The bond that we all have to each other is something that we’ve only had in 2010 and this year. In previous years, there’s always been something missing between each player — that lack of a close bond was the difference,” Click said. “Coach Aderholt and coach Kara (Cashatt) push us really hard to give our best each and everyday — and I think we all feel that we can’t let them or each other down by not giving 100 percent in return.”
The program’s younger players have also been quick to notice the stronger sense of teamwork and closeness that has developed since last season.
“Everyone has come together much more this year. We go out to eat together when we can after practice, sit together at lunch and enjoy each other’s company,” freshman Kendall Beth Sides said. “We didn’t have that last season compared to now and it’s made all the difference. Everyone keeps each other up — we’re like one big family.”
Playing a schedule loaded with top-quality teams has also helped team members feel more comfortable in high-pressure games — as well as matching their skills as a team against the best programs in the state.
“Competing against quality teams boosts our confidence level — when we go against the 6A teams, it shows us that we play with teams at any level. That kind of confidence is something we carry with us during the season and into the playoffs,” said freshman Jenna Ergle, who has hit 22 home runs this season.
“Playing a tough schedule is really good for us. A misconception we hear is that we’re just a 1A team that wins a lot of games, but we’re more than that,” Katlyn said. “We’ve got great players here who play travel ball with girls from 6A teams — we like to face that kind of opposition to help us get ready for the postseason.”
The Eagles (46-13-1) will battle the fifth-ranked Brantley Bulldogs (37-10) at 9 a.m. Thursday.