For nearly a decade, Taylor Dempsey has been catching for her best friend and pitcher Abbi Sparks. After Sparks graduated from Wheelersburg earlier this year, it was unsure whether the two would share the softball field again.
But just days after Sparks signed to play collegiality at Shawnee State, Dempsey followed with her own commitment to the Bears on Friday. It seems the former teammates and best friends will get three more seasons together starting in the 2016 season.
“Abbi coming here only made me want to come here that much more because she is my best friend,” Dempsey said. “Who else can say they’ve caught their best friend since they were eight years old?”
As a junior, Dempsey was an All-Ohio honorable mention while helping lead the Pirates to a one-loss regular season and a berth in the regional finals.
“She’s a very talented, hard working young lady who’s got good ball sense. She hits the ball extremely well,” Wheelersburg coach Teresa Ruby said. “You can’t go wrong with a kid like that.”
Dempsey committed to Shawnee State a year early, despite getting looks from a variety of Mid-American Conference schools, including Akron, Kent State and Ohio. Though she had the opportunity to play on the big stage, Dempsey just couldn’t bear the thought of leaving her hometown.
“The talk was that I could have gone bigger, but this is where I grew up,” she said. “My family’s here. I have three younger siblings, and it would be great to have them come watch me play.”
She also expressed excitement in playing for first-year head coach Amy McGuire.
“I loved everything about her,” Dempsey said. “She’s spunky. She told me she wanted me, and she wasn’t going to quit until she got me. I like the persistence in a coach.”
“I told her just because she’s signing now doesn’t mean she’s done yet,” Ruby said. “We’ve still got unfinished business.”
Despite cruising through the 2014 regular season as the second-ranked team in Division III, Wheelersburg suffered a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to Westfall in the regional finals. With many of the starters from that team returning, Dempsey is determined to make her final season with the Pirates count.
“That loss was a big disappointment,” she said. “I think it’s only going to drive the girls harder, and it’s only going to drive me harder to get to that state title.”
However, this upcoming season will be the first season in nearly 10 years in which she won’t be catching for her best friend. Dempsey believes that a year apart from Sparks will only make her a better catcher.
“It’s going to be rough. But I’m going to be there to support her as much as possible, and I know she’s going to be there to support me,” she said. “Being apart a year will only make us work that much harder when we are together.”
In her absence, Dempsey will look to fine-tune her skills to prepare herself for Shawnee State.
“I’ve always carried a strong bat, but I’d like to continue that and make it a little stronger,” she said. “Behind the plate, I can only become a wall back there.”
“I want her to continue to be as focused and hard working as she has been so we can work on her consistency defensively so we can try and take that up another level.”
Alex Hider can be reached at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1931 or on Twitter @PDTSportsWriter