For the first time in the Taylor history, the baseball and softball teams traveled to Arizona over J-term. Both programs returned with wins over ranked teams and each won a Crossroads League Pitcher of the Week award and one Crossroads League Player of the Week.
Going 7-1 over the stretch, the baseball team had two impressive wins over No. 19 Lewis and Clark College and No. 15 Westmont College.
Baseball ranks 6th in the NAIA with 83 runs batted in and 7th for total runs scored at 91, and is in the top 20 of both total hits and slugging percentage.
“Everyone came in ready to go, it was really quite impressive coming off of Christmas break,” said Baseball Head Coach Kyle Gould.
The team was ready to go every day, as they started off with a breakfast in their houses and a small group session with Tony Dungy’s devotional.
In addition to playing baseball, the team volunteered at high school camps, where they were joined by Brent Minta, Taylor alumnus and the Pitching Analytics Coordinator for the L.A. Dodgers.
The team is currently one of the youngest teams that Gould has coached, consistently featuring 7-8 freshmen and sophomores every game. Sophomore T.J. Bass leads the team with 14 hits and four home runs, Bass and sophomore Nick Rusche are tied for the team lead with 12 runs, and freshman Ben Kalbaugh leads with 12 runners batted in.
But senior pitcher Justin Pettit led the Trojans in hardware taken home.
Pettit earned his second Crossroads League Pitcher of the Week, pitching against Lewis and Clark. Pettit pitched 4.1 innings and allowed one hit in his 14 at bats with 6 strikeouts.
“Seeing his transformation freshman year from a JV player throwing 70 mph to now dominating a top tier team in the country is just incredible,” Gould said. “I have never seen anything like it.”
However, Pettit was not the only Trojan to earn the honor of pitcher of the week
Junior Lauren Kanai earned Crossroads Leagues Pitcher of the Week and Crossroads League Player of the Week.
“I love the competitiveness of the sport, of overcoming the challenges with my teammates and supporting each other together,” Kanai said.
The softball team took advantage of the warm weather of the Arizona desert to practice.
However, this trip had a broader purpose than sports. Hearkening back to Don Odle and his Venture for Victory missions, the team combined both sport and service.
Traveling around Arizona with bat in one hand and paintbrush in the other, the Trojans helped with Habitat for Humanity and Phoenix Dream Center.
The Trojans batted even better than they painted. Taylor softball is No. 8 in the NAIA for both total runs scored (58) and total runs batted in (45).
Kanai leads the team with 11 hits, followed by freshman Emma West with 10 runs. Senior Darby Shaw threw the singular shutout and senior Taylor Wilson batted extremely well throughout the month with 10 hits and three stolen bases.
Currently the team is focused on each play and trying their hardest to not let the future innings and games get into their heads.
“As a team we want to make a statement, to win conference and make it to nationals, we want to go and get it,” Kanai said.
So far the softball team made a statement by beating (RV) Arizona Christian, a team whose coach is also on the committee that votes for the top 25 teams, further increasing Taylor’s athletic resume on the season. They beat the Firestorm in both meetings, outscoring them 18-15.
Softball Head Coach Erin Kotlarz reiterated the importance of the team maintaining their confidence and building up their vision for themselves. She hopes that the team will continue to see their potential.
“It is OK to get some losses, but we learned from it, and they were very beneficial. I have high hopes for this team,” Kotlarz said.
Sports take time, commitment and an immense amount of sacrifice both on and off of the field. As a senior and junior respectively, Pettit and Kanai are no strangers to the dedication it takes to be excellent.
“The Taylor baseball program means a lot, we have a great group of guys (and) going to any other school, baseball is like a joke,” Pettit said. “Here, I get to go and play. When we come to Taylor, we come for our faith, for school and we get to play baseball.”