The Sumner Lady Stingrays won the first district title in their school’s history.

In its first season of existence, the Sumner High School Stingrays softball team became the first program in their school’s history to win a district title.

“The win was huge for us. It was unexpected for sure and we’re all so proud of the way we came together,” said junior third baseman Rachel Brown. “We’re the first to do it—we made history that night.”

Stingrays Head Coach Autum Hernandez came to Sumner after being the head coach at Freedom High School for the 12 seasons prior. It was the right time for the transition for her because she lives near the school in the Riverview area. The former Robinson High School softball player was able to get her new players to buy into the program quickly. She always believed in them and constantly told them that she thought they could win a district title and make history.

“The girls believed in each other and they fought hard,” said Hernandez. “It took a little time for us to gel together and for them to trust me and for me to trust them, but they did a great job of working hard every single day to get to that end-of-the-season victory.”

The team had just three juniors, with the rest being freshmen and sophomores. The school didn’t have seniors for the first year and had only eight players show up at tryouts. Sophomore shortstop Megan DeVilliers took on a big leadership role. Hernandez said that DeVilliers was a great asset to the team and that she not only understands the game, but also she is very patient and does a very good job of helping the younger players become comfortable.

“I’ll remember all of the tireless practices and hard work that led to us winning games,” said DeVilliers. “I’m excited to make new team traditions.”

Hernandez usually doesn’t name a team MVP because she believes in the team aspect. The program was made up of team players who didn’t care about who got the credit, they just wanted to win.

“I try to instill in them that every game someone different has to be the hero and that’s how a team is successful,” she said. “The overall MVP of the season is the team as a whole, being fresh out of the gate and not knowing their coach and not necessarily knowing their teammates, a brand-new school, new facilities and, on top of that, a global pandemic. I would have to say that the whole team deserves MVP honors.”

Hernandez said that the turning point in the season came after a 9-5 loss to Jefferson midway through. The Lady Stingrays lost to Jefferson twice in the regular season, but got their revenge later on.

Brown stepped up her game in the district tournament with clutch hitting and was instrumental to the team’s run as 5A District 10 champions, beating Jefferson 10-8 in a slugfest.

“I attended East Bay High School my freshman and sophomore year and I came to Sumner because I wanted to be a part of something new,” said Brown. “I’m excited to set the precedent for the following years, and I was very excited that we won our first distract championship.”

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Nick Nahas has written for the Osprey Observer since 2016. He has lived in the Valrico area since 2002 and has his bachelor’s degree in mass communications from the University of South Florida. He is dedicated to covering sports in Hillsborough County at every level.