Benjamin Russell softball’s brightest star secured her spot at the next level Thursday.
Surrounded by family, friends, teammates and coaches, pitcher Taylor Harris signed her letter of intent to D-1 Samford University to further her academic and athletic career.
“I honestly couldn’t be more thankful for them,” Harris said. “Without first, God, and then my family and friends, I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am today. Especially with our recruiting process being as difficult as it was toward the end, they especially helped me for that.”
Harris has been a centerpiece of the Wildcats’ softball team since her seventh-grade season.
In 2021 she pitched 95 of the team’s 130 innings, pinning down opposing offenses with a 3.32 ERA and 118 strikeouts against just 31 walks.
She helped lead the way for the Wildcats at the plate too, one of only two players to bat above .400 on the season at .406. She blasted four home runs and collected 13 RBIs.
Harris earned an invitation to Alabama’s North-South All-Star game for her efforts.
It’s not just her incredible on-field talent that sticks out to Benjamin Russell coach Jessica Johnson, however — it’s her generous nature off it.
“I don’t think I have enough words to talk about her off the field,” Johnson said. “Her character, her personality, her work ethic, her drive. She’s just a great person. They don’t make many kids like that. It’ll take her a long way, and I’m super excited to see where she gets to go. She has a love for everything that she does.”
Harris’ hike through recruiting was a rocky one at times.
Last year she committed to Mercer and was fully prepared to play out her collegiate dreams there under coach Stephanie Defeo.
Defeo and the program parted ways this past summer, severing the main tie Harris had to the university. She decommitted Aug. 2.
“It put the pressure on me toward the end,” Harris said. “I just had to trust the process, trust God and know that he had a plan for me. And here we are. It all worked out.”
In that time she leaned especially hard on her family and mentors, she said, including Johnson.
“One of the things that I kept encouraging her to do was stay calm and not get upset,” Johnson said. “Because it was pretty late in the process when things started changing. And it’s easy to freak out, especially when you’re in her shoes and you think you’re going into your senior year and everything’s figured out. Then all of a sudden the coach is gone, then you’re going into senior year not knowing your path.”
Pretty soon it became clear that Samford was the right school for her.
She’d always been big on relationships, Johnson noted, and she found the bonds she was looking for on the Kimball-Cassady-led Bulldogs.
“They say, ‘When you know, you know,’ and when I went on my visit, everything was right,” Harris said. “It couldn’t have unfolded any more perfect. It just felt like home and I can’t wait to be there.”
Signing her LOI is just one phase of her journey, though, Harris noted.
Her work is far from done. The transition from high school to the D-1 collegiate ranks is an arduous one.
But she’s prepared to put in whatever time is necessary.
“When I committed, and especially when I signed, I just don’t want the work to stop there,” Harris said. “That’s when I have to start working my hardest. I want to go in in-shape and ready to be — I just want to make an impact my freshman year. I have really high goals set and I just can’t wait to get to work. The coaching staff there is really good and I know I’m just gonna excel.”
For now, Benjamin Russell has Harris for one more season. The Wildcats not only made the Class 6A Tuscaloosa regional tournament last year but managed to stick around a day after beating Brentwood, finishing as one of the final 24 teams in their class.
Benjamin Russell’s softball season opens in February.