A Return to Prominence for Taft Softball

Highly-ranked Taft softball begins a much-anticipated season.

Matthew Gustafson, Guest Reporter

When Taft students and alumni think of Eagles athletics, the first thought that comes to mind is often football or basketball. They may think of baseball or the dominant wrestling program that has had so much success in recent years. Not many will mention softball first. The most successful sports program at Taft is currently sitting in the shadows, constantly working towards a moment when softball will be one of the first thoughts associated with Taft.

More than any other student-athletes, the players on the girl’s varsity softball team have a state title within their reach. The Eagles have had a historically strong start to the year, winning every single game they have played. In their 10 games, the team has outscored their opponents 146-10, an average which would mean a mercy rule victory after 5 innings each time. Taft softball had been ranked as high as 2nd in the state and 1st overall in Class 4A by MaxPreps, but they have seen their ranking fall due to the low strength of competition faced in their division.

Individual accolades have also followed, with junior Katherine Gonzalez being named MaxPreps/NFCA High School Player of the Week for the North Region 3 weeks ago. This feat meant Gonzalez was named one of the four players across the entire United States for that week. She currently leads the team with a .739 batting average, .800 on-base percentage, 1.782 slugging percentage, and 3 steals. Gonzalez is currently a junior, and Dehne Schoen, the Eagles’ leader in earned run average at 1.27, is a junior as well.

The Eagles have not disappointed this season after winning a sectional title last year before falling to Marist, the Class 4A softball state champions, last year in the quarterfinals of the state tournament. In the last two years, Taft has reclaimed a proud history of success in softball that few are aware of and even fewer remember. From 1986-1992, Taft varsity softball made the state finals as one of the 8 best teams in their classification three times, making their way into the finals by winning the Chicago Public League title. The team accomplished this under the direction of Frank Hood, who won 266 games over 14 years for a .902 winning percentage. Hood had a legendary career at Taft, also coaching varsity boys basketball for 25 years to rack up 480 wins to become the career wins record holder at Taft.

Current varsity girls’ softball coach Germaine Padilla has finally brought Taft back to the level of success they achieved in the 1980’s and 90’s, turning a declining program into one of Chicago’s best. However, the Eagles’ largest challenges lie ahead of them. In order to win their division and to win back-to-back Chicago Public League titles, they will have to go through Whitney Young, currently ranked #5 in Class 4A.
While there is a long road ahead for Padilla and his team, the future is brighter than it has been in decades for the Taft softball team. This year’s team has the ability and determination to make a run for the state title, and they have the foundation to compete in the future as well. All that is left is for the Taft community to recognize the Eagles softball team for what it is: the star program of Taft athletics.