GREENFORD-South Range senior Stevie Taylor has known only winning during her four years as a starter on the Raiders softball team. On an evening when the Raiders celebrated her career, it was only appropriate that they wrapped up their fifth straight outright Inter-Tri County League upper tier title.
In her final home game, Taylor went 3 for 4 with a two-run homer along with a double and a single as South Range breezed past Mineral Ridge 9-3 at South Range High School.
The win clinches the title outright for the Raiders (20-4, 13-0). The second-place Rams-who were the only team left with a shot at first place-fall to 9-5 overall and 7-2 in the ITCL upper tier.
"Winning a league title never gets old," Taylor said. "All four of them that we've won during my career have felt great, but this one as a senior feels even better."
The Raiders have now won 34 straight conference games. Their last ITCL loss was to Springfield in April of 2012.
"Winning always feels good," South Range coach Don Feren said. "We get great kids here every year and it's no different this season. It's been a total team effort."
The Raiders lone senior Taylor holds the school career home run record with 25. She smashed the single season home run record with 13 this season which made the way she exited all too appropriate.
After helping the Raiders establish a comfortable 6-0 lead with a double and a single in her previous two at-bats, Taylor came to the plate in the sixth knowing it was likely to be her final home at-bat. With her sister Codi on second base, Taylor blasted a no-doubt-about-it home run over the fence in left-centerfield to make the score 8-0.
"I was due up fourth that inning, so I'm glad my sister gave me a chance to hit by getting on," Taylor said. "Coach (Feren) told me to go up there and swing for the fence and I got a pitch right down the middle."
In addition to four conference titles during her career, Taylor has also been a part of one district championship team and one district finalist. She is considered by Feren to be as indespensible as one player can be.
"Above her softball ability, Stevie is just a great, great kid," Feren said. "She has been a tremendous leader, everything you ask her to do she'll do. She is going to be very tough to replace."
The Raiders established a 4-0 lead in the third on the strength of a two-run double by Jessica Skirpak, who finished with three doubles and four RBIs. Pitcher Caragyn Yanek never let the Rams make it close. Though she walked six, Yanek induced weak contact most of the night, not giving up a hit until the fifth inning. A three-run homer by Allie Watkins with two-outs in the seventh accounted for the Mineral Ridge scoring.
"The big thing for us tonight was offense, Feren said. "This is one of the best hitting teams I've had here and all nine hitters contributed tonight."
South Range plays Hubbard and Canfield today in the Mahoning Valley Invitational at Springfield High School. Mineral Ridge is at United.
Taylor showed up at the field to find the dugout decorated with balloons and steamers to celebrate her last home game.
"My dad coordinates that, and we've been doing it to celebrate our seniors for four years now," Taylor said. "It was a nice reminder of how big a family our team is. It's a great group atmosphere."
The Raiders still have one game left with the Rams, but it appears that game will be forfeited by Mineral Ridge, which still has four other league makeups to play.
"That's something that our athletic director talked about if we didn't win tonight," Mineral Ridge coach Bill Croft said. "It doesn't make a big difference to me either way."
Darrian Yanek previously held the single season home run record with seven last year.
"Breaking the record was a goal of mine this year," Taylor said. "At the start of the year I wrote down all that I wanted to accomplish and I ended up doing way more than I thought."
The Mahoning Valley Invitational is co-sponsored by South Range and Boardman with a ticket price of $3. The money will go toward the South Range and Boardman softball programs. If there is rain, the 24 schools entered will get a partial re-imbursement of their $200 entry fee.
SR-Caragyn Yanek, wp, (7IP, 6K, 6BB) and Sarah Moretti.
MR-Darby Kolesar, lp, (6IP, 6K, 1BB) and McKenzie Garland.