PLANTATION — As winners of six softball state titles in the past dozen years, hoisting the championship plaque is annually the main objective for the American Heritage School varsity team.
So when the Patriots suffered their first loss of the season March 16, coach Marty Cooper was not concerned.
“Learn from it. It’s going to build character. It’s going to make us better,” said Cooper, who has been at the helm for all six state titles. “Being undefeated is not one of our goals; winning the state title is the only goal we have.”
With two players from the Tribe in the starting lineup – junior catcher Ahnie Jumper and sophomore center fielder Kiauna Martin – the Patriots have been nearly unstoppable in the regular season. They cranked out 14 straight wins before suffering their first setback, 5-1, at St. Thomas Aquinas.
Heritage does not shy away from tough competition. Their victims have included Barron Collier, Coral Springs Charter, Palm Beach Gardens, Westminster Christian and Winter Springs.
“This year is the toughest schedule we’ve ever had,” Ahnie said.
In the Aquinas game, Ahnie belted the team’s hardest hit ball of the night, a double to left-center on a 3-1 pitch in the top of the 6th inning when the game was knotted at 1-1.
“That was a great swing,” Cooper said. “She made an adjustment from the swing just previous to that. I said let’s make a little bit of an adjustment on that swing and she did. She hit a double into the gap. That’s a real nice thing for someone to do from one strike to the next.”
Earlier in the game, Ahnie’s sacrifice bunt attempt brought home Heritage’s only run of the night when a throw from the pitcher sailed into center field.
Ahnie opened the season with three hits and two RBIs in a 10-0 win against Moore Haven, whose roster includes several players from the Tribe. Kiauna notched three hits in a win against Jensen Beach in March.
“They’re both having a very good season,” Cooper said. “Kiauna is doing well in center field. She’s getting more balls in play hitting and becoming more of an offensive force for us in the lineup. Ahnie is doing a great job behind the plate. She’s a leader. She makes great calls as far as what the plays are and what needs to be done. We’re happy with both of them.”
Ahnie and Kiauna were part of Heritage’s state championship team two years ago. Last year, a bid to repeat came up short in a 1-0 loss to Baker County in the Class 5A title game.
Heritage is now in 6A, but its goal has remained the same.
“We’re just improving on a lot of things that we needed to work on last season, and we’re still working on those things,” Kiauna said.
Both players want another shot at a title this season.
“That’s the only thing on our minds,” Ahnie said.
The apple doesn’t fall from Ahnie, whose leadership traits can be seen in her younger sister Canaan on Heritage’s junior varsity squad.
“Canaan was helping one of her teammates and showing her how to throw properly,” said Heritage JV coach Tammy Melton. “[My assistant coach] and I sat back and said, ‘Look at that. Isn’t that something? That’s wonderful.’ Canaan is in sixth grade. She’s showing leadership.”
When Ahnie and Kiauna graduate, the Seminoles’ impact on the field won’t dry up because Canaan, Alani Marks, Buddha Jumper, Madison Jumper, Jessalynn Osceola and Makayla Torres are preparing to step up. They helped the JV compile an 8-2 record heading into the final game.
The JV lost to Coral Springs Charter early in the season but bounced back to win a rematch late in the year, a sign of improvement that appeased their coach.
“The best thing for me is when I see them at the beginning of the season and see how much they’ve improved at the end of the season,” Melton said. “This sport is not only teaching them about how to play the sport but how to be a team and help get self-confidence in them, knowing that they can do a sport. It’s nice to see that come out of them and help each other out.”