DUBLIN — Taylor Stephens, who graduated last month after a stellar athletic and academic career at West Bladen High School, now finds herself in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association record books.
After four years with the varsity softball team, Stephens finished with a career batting average of .438 — placing her at No. 27 all-time. She also collected a total of 144 hits during her career, placing her at No. 14 in the state all-time.
“She improved every year, but her biggest improvement was her defense,” said West Bladen coach Pam Stephens, who is also Taylor’s mom. “She’d been playing a little infield and outfield her freshman season, but we moved her to third base at the (Robeson County) Slugfest that season and she really settled in.
“We’d been having trouble covering bunts, so we thought Taylor was quick enough to help with that,” Pam Stephens added. “She really took off, and said she liked it because the position was all reflex.”
With Taylor comfortable anchoring the hot corner, her offense also began to take off.
“She was hitting in the leadoff spot early on, but we moved her to second in the order, which seemed to help her be more productive,” Pam Stephens said. “She felt like that was her comfort zone.”
During her senior season, Taylor connected for 43 hits, batted an even .500 for the Lady Knights and was 31-for-31 in stolen bases — helping to lead West Bladen to a 20-5 overall record.
Despite the continued improvements and successes on the diamond, Taylor decided that continuing her softball career in college wasn’t for her.
“She began talking about that before the last season,” Pam Stephens said. “And we’ve always had a pact, that if she ever said she didn’t want to play, I wouldn’t push her.”
Instead, Taylor plans to attend Bladen Community College and concentrate on academics. She has recently received a two-year scholarship and will begin work toward a degree in nursing. Her goal is to become a family nurse practitioner.
In the meantime, Taylor hasn’t completely put away the glove and bat. She is currently playing in a Robeson County Church League with Hickory Grove Baptist Church of Bladenboro, and is flashing the leather at shortstop behind a familiar pitcher … her mom.
“I’m just tickled to be able to play on the same field with her,” Pam Stephens said. “Not many mothers get to play softball on the same team as their daughter, so I’m really enjoying this.”