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Valencia Pitcher Jordan Taylor Breaks Strike Out Record
July, 2006 - Issue #21
The way people feel about Valencia pitcher Jordan Taylor is really a matter of perspective.

Teammates love her, and for good reason. The affable junior is always smiling and joking. She almost never loses, yet she always views her individual accomplishments through the filter of team success.

Says Valencia head softball coach Donna Lee: "She's well-liked by all the girls. She's the consummate teammate."

To opposing batters, however, Taylor is the playground bully. She's mean enough to back them off the plate with a 65-mph fastball and courageous enough to put one or two of them on base if they're not fast enough to spin out of the way.

It's all part of the game, Taylor insists. If a hitter moves on top of the plate, she has the right to move them off.

"When you're the pitcher, everyone thinks you're a b%$#," she says. "It's a sacrifice, I guess."

In truth, any bad feelings opposing players may harbor toward Taylor stem less from fear and more from frustration.

First off, she's nearly impossible to score against. In 2006, Taylor tossed 20 shutouts in 31 starts, finishing with a mind-boggling 0.130 ERA.

And she's even harder to hit. Taylor allowed an average of just one-and-a-half hits per game while compiling a 26-5 record. Along the way, she recorded a perfect game, nine no-hitters and eight one-hitters.

Taylor is so tough, most opposing hitters struggle just to put the ball in play. Her 416 strikeouts established a Santa Clarita Valley single-season record, breaking the 24-year mark set by Samantha Ford of Hart High (373) in 1982.

She is already regarded as the most dominant softball pitcher in Santa Clarita Valley history and she's still a full season away from graduation.

"She's already put her name on the map in California," Lee says. "Now she needs to do it everywhere and she's definitely going to do that."

Taylor credits her amazing success to a number of factors. Hours of hard work, a great defense at Valencia and some personal attention from legendary pitching coach Ernie Parker and, most recently, Rich McCarthy.

She also credits her personal powers of persuasion.

"I decided I wanted to be a pitcher in little league, but my parents didn't want me to," she says. "They thought it would be too much pressure for me."

Taylor eventually talked her parents into letting her pitch, but the road to stardom was by no means a straight one.

"I was terrible," is how she describes her early years in the circle. "I was always in the lower leagues. It just didn't click for me. I could always throw hard, but I had no control. I threw it anywhere but the strike zone."

Taylor was so wild, fans would actually cheer whenever she threw a strike. And as hard as she threw, opposing hitters were perhaps the happiest of all.

"Pitching is like [being] a machine," Taylor says. "You get one little thing not working right and everything is messed up. Your feet, your body. You can snap too soon or too late. Your arm can be too far out or too close. So much can go wrong."

Taylor finally "got it" in eighth grade, after several years of what she calls "a slow progression." Under Parker's keen eye, she at last harnessed her power. She stopped fighting herself and instead turned her attention to the girls in the batter's box.

"I don't think about much pitch to pitch," she says. "It's all about muscle memory now."

Still, batters are never comfortable when they dig in against the 6-foot-1 right-hander.

Taylor hit a modest 10 batters in 215 innings last season, but when you throw as hard as she does, batters shy away from being number 11.

"You can always tell the girls who are scared," Taylor says. "They stand way off the plate, in the back of the box. They look like deer in the headlights."

And how does she approach those hitters?

"I throw them inside," she says.

Surprisingly, Taylor doesn't consider her fastball her best pitch. She commands a wicked curveball, a changeup, and a devastating drop pitch - the pitch she goes to when she's trying to strike a batter out.

"I can count on one hand the number of fastballs I've thrown," she claims. "My other pitches are hard, but they have more movement. You have to have movement at the higher levels."

Says Lee: "She hates it when I call for a fastball. She looks at me like, 'ohhh.'"

With Taylor's pitches dancing routinely away from hitters' bats all season, Valencia enjoyed a number one ranking in CIF-SS Division I throughout 2006 and entered the playoffs as the top seed before falling in a 3-2 upset to Bishop Amat on May 23.

Taylor struck out eight in that game, but walked six and allowed four hits - both whopping totals for her. The Vikings were also a number one seed in 2005, when they advanced to the championship game before falling to Royal 2-0, a game where Taylor pitched seven scoreless innings in relief.

She'll try for the school's first softball section title again next season.

Regardless of what Taylor and her teammates accomplish next spring, Taylor is headed for a much larger stage.

She's verbally committed to play for 2005 NCAA champion Michigan - a decision she says she made while watching the Wolverines play during their title run.

"Everything was so together. They were solid all the way around," Taylor says. "They had good coaching and they were having a good time. And you may think I'm crazy, but I hate hot weather. It drives me nuts. I always wanted to go where it snows."

Lee, who stepped away from coaching Valencia at the end of last season, believes Taylor will see plenty of playing time at Michigan. She should know.

As the program's only head coach, she saw several outstanding pitchers wear the purple and gold over the years, including Tori Rocco (2003) and Christina Ross (2004). Ross plays for San Diego State and was named the 2006 Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Year.

"It's hard to compare [Taylor and Ross] because they are different kinds of pitchers," Lee says. "But considering her combination of speed and movement, I'd say Jordan is the best pitcher we've ever had at Valencia."

Perhaps lost in everything Taylor does for Valencia defensively is how she helps them on offense. She throws batting practice every day, which gives Viking hitters a chance to hone their skills against one of the country's best.

"Jordan challenges us," Lee says. "She's just so competitive. She does not like to lose and she'll do whatever it takes to win. You need that from all your players."

Whether or not that means her own teammates are afraid to step into the batter's box against her, Lee isn't saying.

And if Taylor does brush a few teammates off the plate at practice, they don't seem to mind - at least not for long.

Come game time, Taylor's the one steering the Viking ship. She's usually spinning another masterpiece, lifting her team to a level it could not go without her.

She may toss a no-hitter, a perfect game or another routine shutout. Either way, the Vikings celebrate as a family, usually with Taylor in the middle.

All is forgiven.
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