2006 in review: Taylor girls win state softball title

One of the top sports stories of the year in the City of Taylor also may have been one of the best kept secrets in the Downriver sports world: A team of Taylor teen-agers won the 2006 state championship in the Senior Division of Little League softball.

The state title in softball is believed to be the first won by a team of girls entirely from Taylor and the first-ever Michigan softball championship for a team in District 5, of which Taylor’s four leagues are members.

Team Taylor consisted of a group of 12 all-stars, ages 13 to 16. Throughout post-season play in the summer, the girls won championships at various levels, while showing great sportsmanship along the way.

The first obstacle was the District 5 title. The district is composed of 19 separate leagues from Taylor, Detroit, Ecorse, Flat Rock, Lincoln Park, Melvindale, Romulus, Rosedale and the townships of Brownstown, Huron and Redford.

Taylor won the district tournament by defeating its two rivals – the Rosedale Little League and the Lincoln Park American Little League – by a combined score of 24-0.

Taylor’s finest remained unbeaten by winning the sectional championship with two wins – 5-0 and 5-2 – over Port Huron.

In the state tournament, the Taylor girls went 4-0, defeating Onaway (11-0), Portage Lake (10-0) and South Portage twice (7-2 and, in the state championship game, 9-0).

The next step was representing Michigan in the Central Region tournament held in South Bend, Indiana. Taylor defeated the state champions from Wisconsin (11-0) and Indiana (5-1) – to improve to 10-0 – before taking its first loss in tournament play to Kentucky (2-0).

Still, the 2-1 record was good enough for the locals to qualify for the region semifinals against the host team from District 11 in Indiana. The game went 11 innings before Indiana pulled ahead, 2-1, to win the game and move on to defeat Ohio in the regional tournament.

Pitchers Samantha Cain and Aleksandra Hudak played a major role in the team’s success, throwing seven shutouts in 12 games played. Cain struck out 107 batters in 55 innings and threw 43 straight shutout innings. She allowed just one earned run and had an ERA of 0.13. Hudak pitched the other 24 innings, striking out 14 and allowing just five earned runs for a 1.46 ERA.

Team defense also was exceptional. Taylor gave up only four runs throughout all four levels of tournament play. On offense, the Taylor girls scored 88 runs – nearly 10 times the amount scored by their opponents. The team batting average was a solid .353.

When Cain wasn’t pitching, she was playing third base. She was one of four Taylor girls to bat .400 or better. Cain hit .429 (18-for-42), scored 10 runs and knocked in 14 runs.

Only two teammates had higher batting averages. Britney Szymanski – who played center field and right field – led the team with a .462 average (12-for-26). She scored seven runs and knocked in seven.

Second baseman Kristen Sclater hit .442 (19-for-43), scored 12 times and knocked in 16 runs. And outfielder Bethany Sprague hit .400 (2-for-5).

Four players hit over .300: shortstop Tarah Pyles (.378, 14 hits, 13 runs), left fielder Jessica Harris (.333, 10 hits), catcher Kayla Kostich (.324, 12 hits) and first baseman Jessica Krukowski (.303, 10 hits).

Melissa Barrett, who played third base and right field, was right behind them with a .286 average (10 hits, 10 walks, nine RBI). Right behind her was outfielder Ashley Lamb (.269).

Cain, Pyles and Sclater each hit a home run during the tournament run.

Team Taylor was honored when it returned to the city, first during a City Council meeting with a proclamation signed by Mayor Cameron Priebe and all elected officials in the city, and then during the Junior League World Series held in August at Heritage Park.

Jennifer Hall – who was the first female to play in the Junior World Series – said it was an honor to manage the Taylor girls on their historic march.

“I have been absolutely blessed to have had the opportunity to coach these fine young ladies over the years,” said Hall, a lifelong Taylor resident. “Not only have they proven to be extremely talented athletes, but they are all academic honor students.”

The team was a melting pot from local schools.

Five of the girls were students at John F. Kennedy High School: Cain, Sclater, Barrett, Lamb and Hudak.

Three were students at Harry S Truman High School: Szymanski, Krukowski and Harris.

Two – Pyles and Sprague – were students at Baptist Park High School.

Kostich was a student at West Middle School. Katrina Koehn was the only player attending school outside the city, Edsel Ford in Dearborn.

Coaching the team with Hall were Bob Cain and Dale Sclater. Hall also credited the “hard work and dedication” the program received from Sandy Cloutier and Marlene Cain, calling them “the heart and soul of the Taylor softball program.”

“Our girls never strayed away from playing as a team and that allowed us to have success,” Hall said. “They never gave up.”

Throughout the competition, Hall said, Taylor was “the classiest team in the tournament and their sportsmanship is second to none – and I take as much pride in that as I do winning the state championship.”

“The citizens of this great city should be extremely proud of the way these young ladies have represented our city and the State of Michigan,” Hall said. “They have indeed made history that will bind them together with each other for the rest of their lives. They were very proud to represent the City of Taylor and the State of Michigan. Hopefully, this is a sign of many more accomplishments to come.”