The 2021 season was one to remember for the John Paul II softball team. The Lady Cardinals set a score of program records, finishing the year at 25-3-2 and capturing their first-ever Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools state championship.
The postseason accolades have naturally followed for John Paul, which had plenty of representation on both its TAPPS I-2 all-district team and the TAPPS Division I all-state team.
Six Lady Cardinals came away with all-state honors, including five players with at least one year left in their high school careers. The lone senior among that group was Taylor Marchin, who commanded both the circle and the plate in her final season at John Paul.
Marchin capped her high school career by hitting .367 with 32 runs scored. She added 25 RBIs, a team-high 11 doubles and two home runs — including a long ball in the team’s 4-2 state championship win over San Antonio Antonian — on her way to an all-state first-team selection.
As a pitcher, Marchin logged a 2.05 ERA over 95.2 innings thrown. That was good for an 8-1 record with two saves, plus 150 strikeouts and 43 walks during her senior campaign.
“We got Taylor from Plano Senior High and she had to contribute quite a bit this year because our other pitcher got injured and was battling a few things,” said Jayme Baker-Nelson, John Paul head coach. “She was pretty good pitching for us. I think through the playoffs, her ERA was around 0.68, so she really stepped it up late for us.”
Junior Emma Rodrigues was as statistically productive as any player in the area during the 2021 season. She led John Paul in a myriad of categories, including team-high marks in runs (49), hits (44), home runs (13) and stolen bases (42). Naturally, she earned a spot alongside Marchin on the all-state first team.
“Emma is a fantastic kid. She hits with power but even if you pitch around her and she gets on base, she’s a threat to steal,” Baker-Nelson said. “I think she was 100% on all her attempts on stolen bases. She hit a bunch of home runs and made some awesome plays in center field.”
Rodrigues was one of two Lady Cardinals who hit over .500 on the season — the other being junior Emily Jonte, who paced the club with a .519 average.
Also an all-state first-team pick, Jonte tallied 28 hits, 17 runs, 21 RBIs, 10 doubles and one home run as a junior. The recent Providence College commit also saw time in the circle, throwing 38 innings for an 0.37 ERA, 71 strikeouts and a 6-0 record.
“She is a resilient young lady. She battled to get back for us at state and having her there is a big reason why we won,” Baker-Nelson said. “We had both of our pitchers, Emily started both games at state and just did awesome. She’s a power pitcher who throws around 64 (mph) and had such a presence for us.”
Junior Aubrey Hutzler wasn’t far behind with a .494 batting average and was able to match Rodrigues for the team-high hit total with 44, as well as 40 runs, 31 RBIs, 10 doubles and six home runs. Hutzler also earned an all-state first-team spot.
“Aubrey is that typical catcher you want to see. She leads our team, leads our defenses and keeps our pitchers calm,” Baker-Nelson said. “Offensively, whether she’s hitting a home run or blooper, she gets the job done and came through in the clutch a bunch for us.”
The Lady Cardinals had two sophomores crack the all-state second team. Hannah Jackson and Sarah Lyons performed beyond their years for John Paul, offering more well-rounded production within the team’s championship lineup.
Jackson hit .447 for the year, adding 21 runs, 34 hits, 28 RBIs, 10 doubles and four triples. Lyons, meanwhile, logged a .397 batting average to go along with 25 runs, 27 hits, 29 RBIs, nine doubles and four home runs.
“Offensively, those two girls hit a little lower in the lineup,” Baker-Nelson said. “That didn’t mean they needed to stay there but we were scoring so many runs with the way our lineup was set that we kept Hannah and Sarah in that six-seven hole and they often came up with our four-five on and knocked runs in.”
All six players were named to the all-district first team as well, joined by a pair of second-team selections and an honorable mention.
Senior Samantha Samler led the Lady Cardinals with 39 RBIs to go along with a .482 batting average, 30 runs, 41 hits, eight doubles and seven home runs. She was named to the all-district second team along with senior Grace Childers. The only other Lady Cardinal to post double-digit stolen bases at 13, Childers added a .310 batting average, 22 runs, 22 hits, 12 RBIs and two home runs.
Sophomore Ansley Bogue rounded out the selections with an honorable mention nod. She went .125 from the plate, scored five runs, logged nine RBIs and tallied two doubles.
All contributed for a John Paul team that enjoyed a commanding run to the state tournament. The Lady Cardinals went unbeaten over their last 18 games and outscored their four playoff opponents, 35-10.
“It’s been a little bit unbelievable. We took this program over just a couple years ago. This was our goal and something we set out to do,” Baker-Nelson said. “… There’s that high of winning state and then suddenly it’s over. You’re never going to coach those seniors again and that group will never play together again. It’s a weird mix of emotions.”
The cupboard won’t be bare, however. The Lady Cardinals could return nearly three-quarters of their roster next season, including five all-state selections. Baker-Nelson is also encouraged by the potential of some of the team’s incoming freshmen as well.
“I think there’s potential for a run next year and I’m hoping this will be the culture we build at JPII, where we’re in that mix every year,” Baker-Nelson said.