Gloomy weather was contrary to the Taylor Softball team as their title charge gathered steam, with the women winning three out of four games last weekend as they continued to pile pressure on league leaders IWU.
Taylor (15-12, 12-4 CL) grabbed the game-one victory 3-0 on Friday, led by the arm of senior Pitcher Maddi Evans and some late clutch hitting by sophomore Aleyah Rastetter. The victory ended RV Mount Vernon Nazarene's 15-game winning streak, giving the Cougars their first league loss as well.
Evans, who set Taylor’s single-season strikeout and wins record last year, and was named in the All-Crossroads First-Team, was near-perfect in the circle. She shrugged off a minor injury to total seven strikeouts, as she confused the RV Mount Vernon Nazarene batters throughout the game.
Junior Emma West said, “She's our ace as of right now. She definitely controls the tempo of the game, and when she is hitting her spots she can go through the entire lineup.”
West herself has been a pivotal part of Taylor’s offense, coming off a season where she led the team in at-bats, runs scored, hits, hit-by-pitches and stolen bases and was honored as First-Team All-Crossroads League. She reached an infield single, one of her team-high three base knocks in game one, to get the inning started. After one out, senior Ashton Whitman roped a single down the left field line to put West on third. Junior Caitlyn Grim then sent a fly ball to deep center that was kept in the field by the wind, but was deep enough to let West run in from third and give the Trojans the lead.
TU was hanging on to the slimmest of leads in the bottom of the sixth. However, with one out, senior Alexi Clay reached base and senior Nicole Brindle pinch ran for her, setting up Rastetter. Rastetter belted a two-run bomb to left field, giving Taylor some breathing room with a 3-0 lead.
The weather started to perk up in game two, giving the fans some sun to enjoy, however Taylor fell to a disappointing loss as freshman Mackenzie Noah failed to replicate Evans’ heroics from the mound in Game 1. The Trojans struggled in game two, falling 6-0 while mustering a single hit in the game. The Cougars plated runs in the first four innings to grab a 5-0 early lead.
Taylor put aside the gloom and doom as they swept Bethel in an early morning doubleheader on Saturday, getting its record above .500 for the first time since starting 2-1. The Trojan took the early game, 6-3, using a balanced attack, as six different players scored a run, while five players collected a run batted in.
“We were like, okay, like we need to come and take these two games against Bethel,” West said. “Especially if we want to win the conference.”
Evans (7-4) continually pitched out of difficult spots throughout the game. The Bethel Pilots (3-17, 2-10 CL) first threatened in the second, having the bases loaded and nobody out. Evans would get a pop out, and then punch out two batters to end the inning, without a runner crossing the plate. Evans also escaped jams in the third and fifth innings, after the Pilots got runners in scoring position with less than two outs, failing to plate a run in either inning.
Taylor got the scoring going in the third. After one out was recorded, the next five Trojans would gather knocks, with four of them scoring. West started the hit parade with a single, and Evans followed suit with another. West scored on a line drive by Whitman, with Evans scoring on an errant throw. Doubles by Grim and Rastetter rounded out the inning, and gave TU a 4-0 lead.
Taylor added insurance runs in both the fourth and fifth to extend the lead to 6-0.
The Pilots finally capitalized on the plethora of baserunners they had garnered in the sixth. Emmie Pugh blasted a three run home run to deep center cutting the deficit to three.
In game 2, both teams were unable to score until a series of miscues led to seven Taylor runs in the second. Four of the first six Trojans reached on errors, as the other two batters, Clay and sophomore Jersey Tannehill, picked up bunt singles. With four runs already on the board, Taylor continued to capitalize. Whitman doubled and scored on a single by Grim to put the Trojans up 7-0.
Noah (5-7) was stout in the circle in game two, allowing one run in five innings, earning the victory.
“She's been a workhorse,” Evans said. “I think she'll continue to be a dominant presence and get even more dominant next year.”
TU ended the game in the fifth, collecting three-straight hits to start the inning. Tannehill singled, followed by a double to deep right center field by Noah. Freshman Morgan Back came in to pinch-hit, and delivered with a line-drive single to left, ending the game and completing the sweep, continuing her fine run of form as a designated hitter.
Taylor's Head Softball Coach, Erin Bellinger, earned her 100th win Friday afternoon. Bellinger, in her fourth season at Taylor, has an overall record of 100-49 including the program's single-season win record of 43, set last season.
“She had just joined when I was a freshman, and she has only grown in these past four years,” Evans said.