A lot has changed for Taylor Smith since she played fastpitch at Timberline High School.
She’s now a Husky, either playing left field or assuming the designated hitter role for the University of Washington’s red-hot softball team.
Smith said she was leaning toward Stanford or Texas Tech during her senior year at Timberline.
“I never really thought about going to Washington,” said Smith, a 2008 Timberline graduate. “Then on my last recruiting visit, I went there and I fell in love with it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made.”
At Timberline, where she was a first-team all-state selection and led her team to second place in the Class 3A state
tournament, Smith never thought of herself as a home run hitter.
“I hit a few, but I was more of a singles hitter,” Smith said.
Not any more. Smith is the UW’s new smash queen, popping 10 homers and batting .444 with 32 RBI to help the Huskies get off to a 29-4 start this season. The junior is tied for first on the team in homers.
Last year, eight of Smith’s 20 hits were homers.
Smith credits UW coach Heather Tarr and an offseason weightlifting program for the newfound pop in her bat.
“Coach Tarr taught me how to use my body more in my swing,” Smith said. “She taught me how to be a power hitter.”
But that doesn’t mean Smith is swinging for homers with every at-bat.
“I just think about hitting the ball hard,” Smith said. “You can’t swing for the fences with every pitch.”
Smith now has a reputation for being a grip-it-and-rip-it swinger, looking to drive the ball. Sixteen of her 32 hits this season are for extra bases. Her .944 slugging percentage is eighth in NCAA Division I, and she’s tied for 13th in home runs per game.
“She’s fearless. She’s a competitive person,” Tarr said. “She came to us as an unfinished product. She’s worked hard to develop herself into the power hitter she is.”
Tarr explains Smith’s aggressive mindset at the plate simply.
“She eats meat,” Tarr said. “She’s a` hitter.”
Tarr has simplified Smith’s approach at the plate.
“I just focus on every pitch,” Smith said. “I’m in the moment.”
Coming into the season, Tarr saw the potential in her team even though it would be without All-America pitcher Danielle Lawrie, the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year as a junior in 2009 and again as a senior last year.
Without Lawrie, the Huskies are winning with a potent offense, having outscored opponents 281-114 after winning two of three against California over the weekend.
“Everyone wanted to know how we were going to do without Danielle,” Tarr said. “I knew we had a lot of talent coming back. I knew we would be competitive.”
Over the weekend, a back injury did something that opposing pitchers have struggled to do against Smith – keep her off the bases. Smith didn’t play in the Cal series because of a strained back, but she is expected to return to the lineup.
Smith, who was a 3.95 student at Timberline, is still the true definition of student-athlete. She said she has a 3.4 GPA and is majoring in medical anthropology and global health.
“When people ask me what I want to do with my major, I say I don’t know,” she said. “Then I say I want to be a wedding planner. I really do.”
But first, she wants to hit for the Huskies, smashing homers and helping her team win.
CENTRAL SWEEPS SAINTS IN SOFTBALL
Kelsey Haupert, Lindy Baxter and Elena Carter all had a fun homecoming party over the weekend.
All three had a hand in Central Washington’s four-game sweep of Saint Martin’s in softball. All three went to high school locally.
Haupert, a Black Hills grad, hit her eighth homer of the season in an 8-0 win. Baxter, a River Ridge grad, pitched a scoreless seventh inning in an 8-2 win, allowing just one hit in one inning of relief.
Carter, a Black Hills grad, hit an RBI single.
Central has outscored opponents 47-10 and is batting .335 during its seven-game win streak.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 firstname.lastname@example.org www.theolympian.com/sports/blog