As Grant Taylor warmed up in his familiar spot at the Florence baseball field, he noticed every pitch went where he wanted it to go.

“I knew,” Taylor said, “that this game was going to be different.”

An LSU commit, the sophomore right-hander struck out 16 batters over 7 2/3 scoreless innings in the second game of the second round of the Class 7A playoffs. He mixed his fastball and offspeed pitches well, throwing both for strikes and also getting plenty of swings and misses.

Taylor had to leave after 100 pitches (he’s allowed 120 per start next year), and Hewitt-Trussville eventually won 1-0 on a home run in the 10th, eliminating Florence from the postseason.

But Taylor capped a fine sophomore year with his best work to date, and he is the TimesDaily’s Class 4A-7A Pitcher of the Year.

Taylor and the other TimesDaily players of the year will be honored at the annual Athlete of the Year banquet June 11 at the Florence-Lauderdale Coliseum where overall male and female athletes of the year and top athletic program will be named.

Though Florence couldn’t find the offense to take advantage of Taylor’s work that night, inning by inning his potential over the next two seasons of high school baseball and beyond became clearer.

Taylor was unsatisfied with back-to-back outings midway through the year, but he studied video and worked with Florence’s pitching coach at the time – David Langston – and sensed a little improvement against Bob Jones. He felt better still against Austin and in the first round of the playoffs against Huntsville, and that set up his dominance against Hewitt-Trussville.

“The Hewitt-Trussville outing really just signified that I can be just as good as I want to be,” Taylor said. “It’s up to me how good I can be.”

Taylor finished the year with a 5-3 record, one save and a 2.28 ERA. Those numbers are even more impressive given the competition Florence faced.

Taylor’s starts came against 7A state champ McGill-Toolen, 7A runner-up Bob Jones, 6A state champ Cullman, Hewitt-Trussville, Huntsville, Homewood, Spanish Fort, Fayette County, Muscle Shoals, Spain Park, James Clemens and Austin.

The past spring was a year of change for Florence, which made its debut in Class 7A and ended up being its first playoff appearance in three years.

Significant change looms again, as Langston and head coach Steve Garrett resigned after the season.

No matter who the new coach is, Taylor and starting pitcher Cade Henry — among others — will be back to try to guide the Falcons to an even deeper postseason run.

“I think me and Cade will have to step up as the 1 and 2 and really set an example for what we want to do this next season,” Taylor said. “We want to make a run for the blue map. We have to set an example and show what we’re about.”

Contact Craig at Craig.Thomas@TimesDaily.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TD_CraigThomas

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