With one seventh-grader, six eighth-graders and only two upperclassmen, Foundation Academy’s softball team is one of the youngest in the area. Still, it’s undefeated in Class 2A, District 8.
For most prep sports teams, excellence not only comes with talent but also experience. Teams stacked with upperclassmen tend to have a decisive advantage.
But then again, Foundation Academy’s softball team isn’t like most sports teams.
Although the Lions squad comprises primarily 14-year-olds (and even one 12-year-old), it has recorded a .484 batting average. They’ve compiled an 8-6 record, including 4-0 in Class 2A, District 8.
For first-year coach Tate McClellan, her team’s success comes down to the basics.
“That comes from just how hard we practice,” she said. “We preach to the girls (that) practice is where you get better. In games you learn the things you need to work on, then you get to practice and that’s where you work on them. The work they’ve put in, it’s showing.”
McClellan, a former Olympia Titan, played first and third base all through high school, as well as travel ball for Windermere Wildfire. She later played Division I softball at East Carolina University.
The team’s youngest player, Kayla Bolivar, is only 12 years old, and plays both second base or outfield.
“I tried out for the school team last year, but I didn’t make it because they only had a varsity team,” she said. “So I tried out again this year, and surprisingly I did make it, so now I’m on it, and it’s great.”
Assistant coach Armand Winters has seen many of the girls on the team grow as both individuals and softball players, as he coached them in Little League.
“I love their energy and their positivity; I care tremendously about them,” he said. “It’s so fun to watch them grow.”
Faith Fazzone, 14, is the first in the team’s lineup, with a .500 average.
“I am pretty fast for my age,” she said. “So I think bunting a lot has contributed to the team’s average.”
Although she plays both center and left field, Fazzone said she prefers center.
“I feel like I have more control,” she said of the position. “I am more comfortable there, and I’ve played there more my whole life.”
Elena Friedman, also 14, plays outfield, shortstop and third base. She is second in the team’s batting lineup with a .433 batting average.
“I’ve gotten on base a lot this season,” she said. “I’m really bad about getting in my head too much, so whenever I’m up to bat, I try to clear my head and not think about anything.”
Friedman said she likes aspects about both the outfield and third base positions.
“I like center because I like to be able to have the whole outfield — not to myself, obviously, because there are other people,” she said. “But, I like being able to … have space to think but (also) be ready all the time, so it’s kind of like a good spot (to be in). Also I like to run, so it’s fun to have to go after the balls and stuff. And then I like third base, because when the balls get hit to you, they get hit really hard and really fast into the hot corner. It’s fun, because the balls are coming at you, so you have to be ready at all times.”
Third at bat is Riley Winters, who alternates between playing first base, pitcher and outfield. She currently holds a .513 batting average.
“I love being around the team when we are trying to score a bunch of runs,” she said. “We are all rallying, cheering and trying to fight back.”
The coaches admire how the teammates care for one another.
“What I love about them is that there’s no jealousy, no enviousness,” Armand Winters said.
For the girls, braiding each other’s hairs before every game has become a tradition.
“We do black eye before every game and try to make sure everybody has braids in their hair,” Fazzone said.
Praying is another culture element for the Lions.
“The culture is just amazing,” Winters said. “We pray all the time, and it’s just nice involving God thank Him for what he’s given us and allowing us to be here together.”
So far, the team has faced some strong opponents, including Mount Dora Christian Academy, Orlando Christian Prep and Windermere Prep.
“We actually had a 13-inning game with Orlando Christian Prep,” McClellan said. “We ended up losing in the last inning.”
At 8-6, Foundation has had a solid season so far.
“It’s a process,” McClellan said. “We are not winning every game, but we are getting better. We are keeping the faith, we pray before practice, we pray after practice and just trust each other.”
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