When Ashlyn Stewart takes the field for the Satsuma softball team, local history is there with her. The Stewart family has been involved in softball in Satsuma for several years, dating back to her grandfather Burk.
So when she’s on the field, regardless of the position she’s playing, Stewart feels right at home.
And she usually has a lot of family and friends in the stands cheering her on, along with her Satsuma teammates.
“My family is humongous,” she said, smiling. “My older sister played too, and I was playing behind her when she was a senior here. My family has just always been here for everything. My mom is known as the medical mom of the group.
“[My grandfather] used to coach me when I was growing up, ever since I was like 4 years old. He’s always been my coach. He started coaching his daughter when she was really young too, and my dad has always helped. It is a family thing.
“I definitely had my struggles when I was younger. My dad pushed me to be the best player I could be and starting out at such a young age, I just kind of fell into it. It just kind of came naturally to me. I just stuck with it and I got better every year.”
Satsuma head coach Gene Darawich said the Stewart family, including Ashlyn, play a key role in the Satsuma softball community and with the Gators.
“Ashlyn has been with us since she was in the seventh grade, but it goes a little deeper than that,” he said. “Her family has always been kind of a part of this community, especially in the softball world. Her grandfather is a hall of famer as a coach and he’s a legend in these parts. Everyone knows Mr. Stewart for coaching travel ball and even rec ball back in the early ’70s and ’80s and even the ’90s. He’s been a huge part of the softball success in our community and Ashlyn is probably [his] last grandbaby that’s going to come through here and play softball.
“Ashlyn has been a huge part of our program since she started with us in the seventh grade. We had a conversation about that just the other day, about how consistent she’s been and how consistent she is in showing up and what she does in the classroom and the community, just all the things she brings to us.”
In her sixth season with the program, Stewart is playing third base for the No. 8-ranked Gators this season. She’s also been a catcher for the team and has played some shortstop as well. Wherever she has been needed, that’s been her position.
“Moving from position to position has been really challenging, just because I was going from the outfield to the infield and then from the infield to behind the plate, but it makes you better because you have experience at other positions and you’re able to move around,” said Stewart, who has already signed a scholarship offer to play at the University of Mobile next season. “I do [like being a utility player] because when it comes to the college point of view, they see those types of players more favorably because they can put those types of players in different positions and situations while other players can’t play those positions.
“I’d play catcher [if I had my choice]. I’ve been playing catcher ever since I was 9 years old and I played it right up to my senior year, even though I played other positions here and there. But you have to make sacrifices. You can’t always play the position you want to play. You have to be there for your team and play the position they need for you to play in.”
Darawich said he immediately knew Stewart would be a valuable member of the program when he first saw her play.
“As a seventh-grader, the first thing I saw was that she had an absolute cannon; she just had a better arm than any other 12- or 13-year-old kid that I had ever seen in person,” he said. “But it was more to it than that. She was a savvy kid and she understood the game and brought a lot of sincerity about the game; she took it seriously. That whole group that came in as seventh-graders, we all came in together. It’s been a great group and we’ve had a good program the last six seasons and she has been a huge part of that. Her progression speaks for itself. She’s progressed as a student, she’s progressed in the classroom, she’s progressed athletically, and that progression is something to be commended.”
Stewart is one of three seniors — the other two are Brianne McDonald and Katelin Booker — who joined the team as seventh-graders in what was Darawich’s first season as head coach. Sophie Page, Chloe Rafada and Madilyn Sheffield joined the team later to form this year’s senior class.
“That group has really been a pleasure to coach … and they are big contributors to our team,” Darawich said. “I can’t even put into words the amount of sacrifices they have made, that their parents have made for this program, the amount that these kids — those kids and all the kids we have on this team — have put into building something that I am proud of and the community can be proud of, something that we can buy into and that makes Satsuma look good when we are outside of here.
“If you just look at the aesthetic improvements that have happened at this field, that’s a testament to this group and the groups that came before them and their parents and the administration. All of that goes into buying into these kids and these kids are easy to buy into because of how hard they work and the things that they do on a day-to-day basis, and the type of kids they are and how they treat each other, how they treat me and respect me, how they respect their parents and how they treat their classmates, all of those things.”
As for Stewart, Darawich said, “Ashlyn is one of the best players I’ve ever coached, one of the best players I’ve ever been around. She does so many things well for us. She’s played outfield, she’s played shortstop, she’s played third, she catches. Probably her best position is catcher, but we need a third baseman and she is so comfortable there.
“We graduated a really good shortstop there seasons ago, an all-conference player at [the University of] Mobile and I looked at a 10th-grade girl [Stewart] who had never played shortstop and said, ‘You’re now our shortstop.’ She bought into that role and made it as good as it could be.”
The Gators are enjoying a good season and have hopes of making a strong run in the postseason. But as each game is played, the season grows closer to an end and Stewart gets closer and closer to playing her final game as a Satsuma Gator on the team’s home field.
“It’s really going to be heartbreaking when we play our last game on this field because I grew up on this field,” she said. “It’s going to be tough, but it’s always been really good to have the younger kids be able to watch us and play the game you love.
“I love Satsuma. They say it’s like a small private public school. It’s so community-based and there’s so much support from the other communities around you.”
As for the team’s chances to make a run at the state championship, Stewart said, “As long as the team plays together, we should be able to go far this year.”
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