South Range’s Taylor leads young, talented team
By Tom Williams
When Stevie Taylor began playing softball, her teammates were usually older. That pattern continued at South Range High School where she’s become the Raiders’ latest four-year varsity letter-winner.
So when five of her teammates graduated last June, Taylor found herself in an unusual spot. She was no longer a new kid on the block. This season, she’s the only senior on the team.
“We break every huddle with me saying ‘senior,’” South Range head coach Don Feren said. “In years past, there have been multiple people to get advice from.
“This year, all the burden has fallen on her shoulders,” Feren said. “It’s her team.”
Losing five starters to graduation including ace pitcher Carly DeRose (last season’s Vindicator softball pitcher of the year) usually means rebuilding. But the Raiders (22-5, 14-0 Inter Tri-County League Tier One) have reloaded.
Freshman pitcher Caragyn Yanek (11-3) has replaced DeRose as the Raiders’ top pitcher. Her emergence allows Taylor to anchor the infield at shortstop.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’m at home when I am at shortstop,” said Taylor who sometimes pitches. “I would rather stay there.”
In recent seasons, South Range has been blessed with strong pitching. Madison Yanek, Caragyn’s oldest sister, was on the mound from 2008-11. DeRose pitched from 2010-13 and another Yanek sister, Darrian, saw time on the mound.
“I was honored to play with all of them,” Taylor said. “I was very comfortable where I was at with all of them pitching.
“They were always reliable and I knew that as long as they were doing their job, I could do mine and back them up.”
Three years ago, Taylor injured her right elbow pitching at an indoor tournament and tendonitis slowed her down. Playing infield was less painful.
“I slowly eased my way back into [pitching],” Taylor said.
That’s one reason she has no problem watching another Yanek fire the ball.
“I have to give it up to Caragyn because she has done great,” Taylor said. ”She’s a strong competitor with any pitcher in the league.
“We have a great pitching staff here and I’m lucky enough to be part of it.”
Taylor also has played varsity volleyball and basketball at South Range. She played point guard in her sophomore and junior seasons. Giving up basketball as senior “wasn’t too difficult,” she said.
“I played travel softball all winter and I think that helped me prepare for spring a lot better than I normally do,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s future plans are up in the air. She hopes to continue with softball but her main goal is to become an air traffic controller. The daughter of a pilot, she’s been taking flying lessons as her senior project.
To no spring sports fan’s surprise, rainy weather has not allowed her to try takeoffs and landings.
“It’s just been a great kick-start in knowing what I want to do in the future,” Taylor said. “It’s pretty exciting even though I haven’t picked which school.”
Taylor admits being a mentor has been different.
“That’s definitely been a huge change because I’ve always been looking up to the ones I was playing with,” Taylor said. “Now I’ve got 20-some players looking up at me.”
Junior catcher Sarah Moretti said Taylor has learned from playing so often with the older girls.
”I wouldn’t want anyone else as our one senior leader,” Moretti said. “She’s very important on offense and defense, with all her home runs and her amazing plays at shortstop.
“She does a really good job of leading the team.”
This week, the Raiders are hoping for two more wins and a district title that eluded them last year when they lost to Ursuline in the Division III district final. Monday at 4:30 p.m. on the South Range field, the Raiders will play Newton Falls. Ursuline and Girard will play in the other semifinal.
Moretti said she understands why some might consider a team who had to replace five starters as an underdog.
“We’re proving that we can still play and hopefully go farther than we did last year,” Moretti said.
Taylor’s sister Codi is a freshman outfielder.
“This year, I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” Taylor said. “And it makes it all the more special that I get to spend my senior year with my sister.”