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Prep softball: Juab's Taylei Williams is 2016 Tribune Player of the Year

Published June 16, 2016 11:35 am

Prep softball • Juab's Taylei Williams put on a show at the plate, on the mound.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Mona • Hang around Taylei Williams and it won't take very long at all to figure out how big a role softball plays in the teenager's life.

Asked about which professional athletes she admires, for instance, Williams has a searching, verge-of-blank look on her face.

It's not that she doesn't like sports. On the contrary, she played volleyball, basketball and softball in her just-completed junior year at Juab High School.

You see, though, Williams just doesn't watch a lot of television and that's why her exposure to current sports heroes is rather on the limited side.

"In fifth grade or sixth grade, she had to put down her favorite TV show and she wrote 'KSL News,' " said Tina Williams, Taylei's mom, adding that the softball regimen in her daughter's life doesn't allow much free time. "Sometimes the news is all we get to watch."

Of course, to just about anyone who's watched Taylei Williams play softball, it's not surprising news that she is The Salt Lake Tribune's 2016 Softball Player of the Year.

Out back of the Williamses' place in the small town of Mona, which is a few miles north of the high school in Nephi, sits a barn whose sole purpose these days seems to be to take the brunt of Taylei's pitches and line drives.

With her father Andy setting up as a catcher in front of it, the wooden planks on the east side of the barn gradually get cracked and repaired or replaced because of the occasional pitches that get away.

Inside, the second floor isn't really for bales of hay and storing implements. It's primarily used as a batting practice cage where Andy delivers pitches to his daughter from about 30 feet away — about as far back as he can inside the structure.

Although Andy Williams sets a screen in front of him, he can't get out of the way of all the balls driven back his direction.

"I get his toes a lot," Taylei Williams said.

Behind him, a large pad drapes over the west wall of the barn and protects it to the extent it can.

"We're constantly practicing or playing somewhere," Andy said. "We don't get much of a break."

In 2016, it was Juab's opponents who didn't get much relief when it came to Williams.

She pitched the Wasps to shutout victories in half of her 20 starts, while amassing 223 strikeouts and a barely-visible 0.76 earned run average. With the bat, Williams had a .641 average with 12 home runs and 65 runs batted in.

She ranked in the top five in all those stats statewide, regardless of classification, and her ERA, her RBIs, and her 1.461 slugging percentage were best for all Utah high school softball players.

Along the way, Juab only lost three games — the season-opener to Tooele and two games late in the state tournament against Bear River. In between, the Wasps sported impressive wins over powers in Class 4A (runner-up Maple Mountain, Uintah, Springville) and 5A (a 10-0 shutout of Bingham).

The only thing missing for Williams and Juab was the Class 3A state championship.

Bear River beat Juab by identical 2-1 scores in each of the last two days of the season to grab the crown, although Williams could hardly be blamed.

Even in defeat, she was dominant.

In the semifinals and the championship of the double-elimination 3A tourney, Williams allowed one hit in each game — a bunt, on both occasions. Meanwhile, Bear River steadfastly tried to avoid seeing her do damage at the plate, and the Bears made a habit of intentionally walking her.

Those defeats seem to have damaged Juab's collective psyche to the extent that words like "cursed" are not uncommon in the Wasps' lexicon these days.

Taylei Williams tries to stay more analytical.

"They were really tight games. I just think they executed the plays they needed to at the right times," Williams said. "If you look at it, we outhit them and we should have won both of those games, but Bear River came in clutch and scored two runs when we could only score one.

"It was pretty frustrating," she added. "All we can think of is we weren't meant to win."

Williams has verbally committed to play at Southern Utah when she's finished with her high school career.

In the meantime, she spends her free moments sleeping en route to and from softball tournaments ("If it's more than a 10-minute trip, I'm not staying awake," she said) and jawing with the baseball-playing boys at Juab High over who can hit who.

According to Tina Williams: "She's like, 'I'll hit that tree with a rock before you do. I'll beat you in ping pong.' There [aren't] many boys who can beat her in anything. Someday, I'm going to have to have her watch 'Seven Brides For Seven Brothers,' because she's hanging out with them, dating them a little."

But that's only if mom can find a way to get Taylei to sit in front of a screen long enough to view it. —

About Taylei Williams

• Led Juab to a 25-3 record and a second-place finish in Class 3A.

• The 5-foot-6 junior has verbally committed to play collegiately at Southern Utah University.

• Led the state with her 0.76 earned run average, and was second in strikeouts with 223 — two behind Cambrie Hazel of 4A champ Spanish Fork.

• At the plate, she had a .641 batting average and hit 12 homers, and led all players — regardless of classification — with 65 RBIs and a 1.461 slugging percentage.






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