AUBURN — Meena Taylor trusts her catcher wholeheartedly.
It happens to be her twin sister, Piper.
They have played softball together for about as long as they can remember, and plan to keep it that way beyond high school.
Their rapport is unflappable.
“I love pitching to her, and I feel really comfortable with her behind the plate,” Meena said.
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Meena turned to pitching at around 10 years old. Ditto for Piper at catcher.
The fiercely competitive sophomores out of Lutheran coalesced into a force to be reckoned with and flourished as freshman in a coop with Calvary.
Meena summoned a 1.87 ERA with 232 strikeouts in 116 innings. She also touted a .460 batting average with only one strikeout in 60 plate appearances and was named to the Illinois Coaches Association Class 1A all-state third team.
Piper, meanwhile, maintained a .333 batting average.
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They now belong to a new coop with Auburn.
The upstart Trojans ultimately welcomed four new players — the twins included — into the fold, all from Lutheran.
“It’s just a great environment to be in,” Meena said.
Trojans build a new culture
Auburn was already on the rise.
The Trojans won a share of their first ever Sangamo Conference title with Maroa-Forsyth and finished 13-12 overall in head coach Ryan Patterson’s first season.
“I know Auburn’s history in softball before was a little rough and we’ve really picked it up in a few years,” said sophomore infielder/utility player Addison Wheatley. “We can thank Ryan for that. He’s really truly turned the program around. I think this season, we’re really going to strive for conference champs and just winning games.”
Patterson certainly tries to motivate his players through any means. That now includes a giant whiteboard in the dugout.
He additionally coaches travel ball with Force Elite and lets players use his own batting cage in town. His daughter, Taylor, is a sophomore shortstop.
“It basically motivates us to do better and not play bad,” Piper said of the whiteboard, “because we have negatives and positives on there, so if we get more than 10 points, our coach has to run polls. So, that’s nice.”
Promising young lineup
Wheatley starred as a freshman.
She doled out a .494 batting average with 38 hits, 30 RBIs and four home runs and was voted to the all-Sangamo first team.
Patterson also shined as a newcomer and hit .424 with 16 RBIs and four triples.
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The Trojans certainly took the conference by storm last season.
“Whenever I first started softball, I wasn’t the best,” Wheatley said. “Me and my dad (Nate) worked every day at it, so I never thought that my freshman year I would have done as great and accomplished stuff as a team that we were able to accomplish, so it’s a great feeling.”
Wheatley said she particularly worked with her dad at Patterson’s so-called shed.
“For me, it’s reps,” Wheatley said. “I have to get a lot of reps in and once I get reps, then I can kind of just naturally do it without thinking about it. I couldn’t do this without my dad, he’s truly why I am where I am right now. So just reps every day in the shed … and once I get my reps in, then it carries over to the game.”
Wheatley has followed that up with a .404 hitting average prior to Thursday’s game against Williamsville. She has amassed 23 hits, 27 RBIs and two home runs.
The Taylor twins further bulk up the promising lineup and give the Trojans four talented sophomores at the top of the order: Meena, Patterson, Piper and Wheatley.
Meena has been on a tear in the leadoff spot with a .619 batting average. That includes 39 hits, 14 runs and 16 RBIs.
She also emerged as the team’s top pitcher alongside returning junior starter Sydney Rabideau. Meena has a 1.15 ERA with 109 Ks so far this spring.
Piper swaps out at catcher and second base with prolific senior Shelby Seiler, who is hitting .527 with 29 hits and 27 RBIs. That offers rest behind the plate, Patterson said, and Auburn continues to trend in the right direction at 12-5 overall and 3-0 in the conference.
Duo sticks together
Meena and Piper boast a dominant presence despite their diminutive size — the former at 5-foot 3 and the latter 5-foot even.
They regularly work out together in the morning before class. Meena said her legs and mental resolve are her biggest strengths as a pitcher.
“I was really, really skinny,” Meena said. “And then as I hit 12, I was like, I want to get stronger and get the ball across the plate a little harder.”
Meena bats and throws left-handed while Piper is just the opposite. Piper said it just turned out that way.
But both credited mom, Andrea, for piquing their interest in softball. She was a former catcher herself at Lanphier, according to Piper.
“We just fell in love with it,” Meena said.
The twins also seem destined for an NCAA Division I program — together.
“We’re going to go to the same college,” Piper said. “That’s the plan, unless she gets into Oklahoma or something and I don’t. I want her to go as far as she can. But the plan is to go together.”
Contact Bill Welt: 788-1545,firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter.com/BillWelt