Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local Sports

March 26, 2014

Wheeler will turn to Walters St.

Boyd senior softball standout inks with Tennessee college

CANNONSBURG — A snow squall whipped across the Boyd County campus Tuesday afternoon, just before senior Taylor Wheeler signed a letter of intent to continue her softball career at Walters State Community College.

It seemed only fitting.

When Wheeler visited the Morristown, Tenn., campus last fall, she worked out for head coach Larry Sauceman in unseasonably cold weather.

“It was freezing, it should have been snowing,” Wheeler said. Even so, the low temps couldn’t manage to chill her bat speed.

“I hit four out (of the park),” recalled Wheeler, who was taking cuts against Sauceman, a former Walters State baseball player now in his 17th year guiding the Lady Senators’ thriving softball program.

“She swung the bat really well,” Sauceman said later Tuesday via telephone. “I also liked the way Taylor caught the ball, and she has a good arm. We look forward to having her down here.”

Sauceman expects Wheeler to quickly fill a spot as a middle infielder.

“Second base or shortstop, wherever we need her,” the coach said. “She has a lot of ability and is just a great kid. That’s 90 percent of it. I think she will fit in well for a couple of years.”    

Four players from Walters State’s 40-7 team last year that played in the junior college national tournament moved on to four-year schools.

Wheeler, a .450 career hitter at Boyd County, has warmed up to the idea of pursuing a similar path.

“At first, I had no intentions of going to a junior college,” said Wheeler, who had interest from Marshall University as well as several small colleges and other junior colleges. “Things with Marshall did not work out at this time. When I made the trip to Walters State, I felt something clicked.”

Tuesday’s signing ceremony, attended by several of her family members and friends, brought a welcome sense of closure for Wheeler.

“I’ve been kind of worrying the last several months about college, then one school night I came downstairs and said, ‘I want to commit to Walters State.’” she said. “I’m looking forward to going there and moving ahead.”

Wheeler said she hopes to spend just her freshman season at Walters State, but if one year turns into two “I’m completely fine with that.”

What Wheeler puts her mind to, she usually succeeds. Basketball opponents never figured out a way to keep her from driving to the basket and becoming Boyd County’s all-time leading scorer. She was recently named the Kentucky Association of Basketball Coaches’ Player of the Year in the 16th Region.

“Taylor is arguably one of the best athletes to come out of this school,” Boyd County softball coach Geoff Stewart said. “What sets her apart are attitude, passion and hard work. What you see on the basketball court, you see as much if not more on the softball field.”

An honorable mention All-State softball selection the past two years, Wheeler already ranks in the Top 20 of the state record book with 59 career doubles. She also entered her senior season with 11 home runs, 15 triples, 77 stolen bases and  144 runs batted in.

“She’s a well-rounded player when it comes to throwing, hitting and fielding,” Stewart said. “Plus she’s smart and understands the little things that make a really good player a great player.”

Wheeler, a four-time All-Area player, was selected to play in Kentucky’s East/West Junior All-Star weekend.

Stewart said Wheeler’s ability and accomplishments merit her being mentioned as a Miss Softball candidate.

“I’ve seen past Miss Softballs and feel like Taylor’s skills are just as good as theirs,” Stewart said.

Wheeler would like to go out with a 16th Region championship and trip to the State Tournament, something that has eluded her so far.

 “I definitely want to finish strong,” Wheeler said. “We have another shot at going to state. As a senior, I’m going to push the younger girls, make them understand their time is coming soon.”

Wheeler’s father, Dave, a former minor-leaguer in the Cincinnati Reds organization, is Boyd County’s top assistant. Taylor credits him for being a tremendous influence throughout her career.

“He’s been there since I started,” she said. “Dad has always been understanding with me. It’s going to be different not playing for him when I go to college.”

Wheeler, who also excels in the classroom, would like to become an elementary school teacher, return to the area and coach either softball or basketball.  

ROCKY STANLEY can be reached at rstanley@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2671.

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