After playing the outfield the last two seasons, Brookwood softball player Taiylor Rinehart seems right at home after moving back behind the plate to her original position at catcher. She is a major reason the Broncos are headed back to the Class AAAAAA state tournament in Columbus next weekend. (Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan)
In a sense, it can be said Taiylor Rinehart is truly back home again this high school softball season.
No, the senior never left her neighborhood in the Brookwood community.
But after moving from catcher to the outfield for the last two high school seasons due to the presence of three-year starter and All-County catcher Mandy Blackwell, Rinehart is back behind the plate this fall playing the position she’s played since she was 8 years old.
“I quit playing catcher last year (in travel ball),” Rinehart said. “After getting back to it, I’m really enjoying it. It’s a little different because I got used to walking out to the outfield and looking in and seeing everything from that point of view.
“It’s weird catching (sophomore pitcher) Amanda (Ablan) because I’ve never caught her before. That’s the only weird thing.”
And as much as Rinehart feels back at home, the Broncos (23-11) have enjoyed the benefits they’ve reaped from having her back there.
She has been a major force in the team winning another Region 8-AAAAAA championship and a trip to Columbus for the Class AAAAAA state tournament, where Brookwood will open play Thursday against Kennesaw Mountain.
Rinehart currently stands second on the team with 11 stolen bases and 23 runs scored hitting out of the leadoff spot in the order, along with a .308 batting average and 11 RBIs.
The former numbers are perhaps the most noteworthy because it isn’t often to see a catcher provide so much with her speed out of the lead-off spot in the order.
“It just shows you how versatile she is,” Brookwood coach Bill Batchelor said. “We don’t have to use a courtesy runner (for the catcher) because we’re able to utilize her speed. She’s an athlete. That’s what separates her (from other players). She’s a really good athlete.”
But there is perhaps another quality that separates Rinehart from ordinary players — one that Batchelor and a lot of other coaches value most in a catcher.
Rinehart’s communication skills and leadership ability help her not only work as a team with pitchers like Ablan, but also helps set the defense and keeps her teammates aware of the situation on the field.
“She studies the game,” Batchelor said. “She’s seen a lot and played a lot of travel ball with a lot of people. So, she knows everybody.
“She also plays point guard on the basketball team, and she handles the ball and knows how to direct people. Everything runs through her. She’s used to running the show.”
Indeed, being a kind of point guard for the defense is one of the things Rinehart says she likes best about catching.
And it’s a duty she takes very seriously.
“Getting to know the game is really good,” Rinehart said. “I like to know stuff about the game. I like to know everything I can. It like being in control of the game and at the center of everything that happens.”
As well as Rinehart has played behind the plate, it’s likely that her future in softball at the college level may be in the outfield.
And she’s proven that she can handle that role after hitting .366 with a home run, 11 RBIs, 34 runs, 12 stolen bases and a .439 on-base percentage as a sophomore last season.
But she has the rest of this season, as well as her senior campaign to worry about before then, and her focus remains on Columbus and the Broncos attempt at their first fastpitch state title, and the school’s first softball state title since winning the slowpitch championship in 1991.
“It’s awesome,” Rinehart said of earning a bid to return to Columbus this year. “Nobody really knew anybody (coming into the season) because we’d lost 10 seniors (off last year’s team). And nobody expected much of us, but we knew we could do it, and it all just fell into place.”