Published July 13. 2014 4:00AM Updated July 16. 2014 10:40AM
Perhaps it was the one time Caroline Taber was beatable this season, once, a loss in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament championship game, that put her normal invincibility into perspective.
Part of it was that Taber, a sophomore pitcher for the eventual Class L state champion Fitch High School softball team, used that 8-4 defeat to Norwich Free Academy as motivation to make sure there wasn't a second loss anywhere in sight.
Part of it was that Taber had the belief in herself and in the Falcons all along, in the work they put in, in their bond as teammates, and one blip on the radar - though an unwelcome one - wasn't going to take that away.
"The feeling was one we didn't feel before. We had to show everyone what we're made of. We were so hungry," Taber said.
"… I love pitching so much. It's my favorite thing to do. All the time. I never get tired of it … seeing the reward that comes from putting your heart into something."
Taber put her heart into this: She finished with a 20-1 record, three saves, a 0.69 earned run average, 185 strikeouts and 23 walks in 151 1/3 innings, allowing just 15 earned runs for Fitch (26-1). A first team Class L all-state selection, she also batted .506 with three home runs and 34 RBI, including a homer in the first inning of a state semifinal victory over Lauralton Hall.
Taber, who reworked her pitching motion with a private coach prior to the season in anticipation of being named the Falcons starter for the first time, has been selected as The Day's 2014 All-Area Softball Player of the Year.
"She's not a mall kid. She doesn't do malls," Taber's mom, Geraldine said with a laugh. "She does indoor pitching and outdoor pitching."
"Teams did start to hit her, but just sticking to what she knows and what she's learning, it brought us to where we were," Fitch coach Arielle Cooper said. "She has a very good game face. You can tell she's just focused, she's going to work through it even when people get on base."
Taber has learned never to get too comfortable. She tells the story of the first time she ever pitched, at the age of 10, for her Mystic Little League team. Taber "walked everyone" and lost. She also struck out looking three times in one travel league game this summer.
Not destined to be complacent, it was that which drove Taber to seek pitching instruction beginning in late October from Jen Hapanowicz. Hapanowicz assigned Taber a set of drills; she didn't actually pitch again until January, she said. She learned new grips for all her pitches, added life to her fastball.
"I knew that I could be better," said Taber, who likely would have been an above average pitcher this season even without the new mechanics. "I just kept telling myself, 'I know it'll be worth it.' … I know I always have work to do if I expect to be the best."
Taber is also tied academically at No. 1 in her class and wants to be a doctor. She's participating this summer in the Lawrence + Memorial Hospital Junior Volunteer Program.
"A great kid, a great athlete," Cooper said.
Having played for several Mystic all-star teams with many of her Fitch teammates, including last year's Junior League team which came a win from advancing to the World Series, Taber seemed to draw a sense of comfort from having them surrounding her at the high school level, too.
"Everywhere we go, we have so much fun," Taber said. "We never get sick of each other, except maybe last year at the end of all-stars at the end of the season, we needed to spend a couple days away from each other."
Taber's dad Tom, president of the family-owned Taber Inne in Mystic, coached her at the youth level. Geraldine, who has a doctorate of chemistry, works as a senior director at Pfizer. Caroline has a brother Thomas, 13, and a sister Fiona, 10.
She also plays for the Fitch volleyball team, which reached the semifinals of the ECC tournament last fall, and was an All-ECC second baseman at Fitch last season before taking over the pitching duties.
Taber said it's usually when a game comes down to the final out, such as the Class L championship game against Sacred Heart on June 14, that things get a little nerve-wracking.
"That's when it hits you," she said. "You just have to go out and play your best. I have to trust myself, trust my own abilities. Winning a championship for your school is a big thing."