During the months leading up to her freshman year of high school, Taylor Liguori sat down with her dad and set out a road map for what she hoped to get out of her four years at Hammond High.
It was a lengthy list — filled with a wide array of goals — but for Liguori it was a constant reminder of what she was working toward.
Throughout her first three years of high school, the Golden Bears’ star shortstop methodically began checking off the items one by one. Whether it was the personal success of earning All-County honors each season or locking up her future by committing to play softball for the University of Maryland as a freshman, everything for Liguori was seemingly playing out according to plan.
Everything, that is, except the one thing that she says mattered the most to her.
“The team … that was my entire focus. Individually, I had accomplished most of the personal goals I had set, but coming into this year as a senior I felt like not having that team success was a huge piece of the puzzle that was missing for me,” Liguori said. “We had been improving every year since my freshman year, when we had only won a few games, but I knew this was my last chance to truly leave a mark on the program … to finally put Hammond softball back on the map.”
Liguori ended up making an impression that will last for years to come.
As the unquestioned leader for the Golden Bears, Liguori guided the program this season to its first county championship since 2009 after back-to-back seasons finishing at .500 overall.
She led the county in overall batting average (.697), RBI (34), runs scored (39), doubles (16) and home runs (8), and with those numbers, Liguori was able to cross off one more thing from her bucket list: Howard County softball Player of the Year.
“I had heard nothing but great things about Taylor coming in, and she still exceeded expectations,” said Hammond first-year coach Russell Kovach. “It wasn’t just the hitting or the fielding — and don’t get me wrong those things were terrific — but she also has an attitude and a leadership quality that puts her on an entirely different level. She’s the definition of a role model, someone who inspires those around them to be better players and better individuals both on and off the field.”
For Liguori, the road to becoming the best softball player in the county this spring can be traced back to the love for the game she developed while playing for her father, Bill. He started coaching her when she was 10, and the two created a bond that has only gotten stronger through the years.
“He spent countless hours in the cages with me, hitting ground balls to me on the field and studying swings whenever I asked,” she said. “He taught me that … work ethic is what separates good from great. I will forever be grateful for the time we had traveling the country together and playing the best game in the world.”
By the time Liguori arrived at Hammond, she was prepared to hit the ground running. While the Golden Bears finished with a 3-14 record, Liguori shined her freshman year with the third-highest batting average (.610) in the county to go along with 13 doubles and five stolen bases on the way to making second team All-County.
She was among the top 15 hitters in the league again as a sophomore and junior — batting over .500 each season with double-digit extra-base hits — and made first-team All-County each season.
But it all paled in comparison to what she did this year as a senior. She served as the anchor defensively in the middle of the infield for a Golden Bears’ team that started freshmen at first, second and third base. Liguori made just one error in 59 chances to help Hammond cut its runs allowed in half from last spring, down to 4.9 runs a game.
Then offensively, she was the big bat near the top of the lineup that delivered both with consistency and timeliness. In addition to her gaudy average, she posted a career-best OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of 2.089.
Among the season highlights was a walk-off home run in extra innings against Mt. Hebron and a grand slam in the seventh inning to help Hammond pull away for a key road win over Glenelg.
“She’s an on-base machine, and a lot of that is her looking at what pitchers are giving her and not trying to do too much with it. She wasn’t always swinging for the fences; she’d go the other way, shorten her swing … just a real professional hitter,” Kovach said. “And, at the end of the day, there’s nobody you would rather have at the plate in a pressure situation than Taylor Liguori.”
Liguori said there were plenty of key moments that led to the team’s breakthrough campaign but pointed specifically to the Golden Bears’ 4-1 road win over Howard during the final week of March. That victory ended up being the fourth in a string of 10 consecutive league wins, setting the stage for an eventual piece of the county crown.
“That was our fourth game that week and after coming out a little flat, we scored four runs in the last two innings to pull it out. I think that was the moment everyone kind of realized that this was something we could do,” Liguori said. “That was the spark that opened our eyes, I feel like. It wasn’t just potential any more … we believed we could be county champs.”
While the season ended much earlier than Liguori and her teammates had hoped it would, losing by a run to Glenelg in the second round of the playoffs, she heads off to begin the next chapter of her career at the University of Maryland with no regrets.
“Those last couple boxes, I was able to check those off this year and to see how far this team has come since I got here is what makes me the happiest,” Liguori said. “This was a special team, with some incredibly talented players, and we really supported and pushed one another to do something in terms of winning a county title that we have been working toward for quite some time.”
Named to the first-team All-County squad:
Brittany Brewer, Hammond, senior. Arguably no county pitcher was more improved this spring than Brewer, who was a major reason Hammond was able to break through for the program’s first county title since 2009. Brewer lowered her ERA against league opponents from 5.57 as a junior to 3.46 this season as a senior, finishing with a 9-2 county record.
Her best stretch of the season came during the first week of league play, allowing a combined four runs in three consecutive victories over Centennial, Reservoir and Howard.
“That week was as good as any I’ve ever seen by a pitcher … she was in complete control. And I think it was a great snapshot of the things Brittany was so good at this season — pitching to her spot and letting the defense behind her make plays,” Hammond coach Russell Kovach said. “She pitched with a ton of confidence this year.”
At the plate, Brewer was one of the best leadoff hitters in the county, finishing with an on-base percentage of .500. She also showcased tremendous power with 13 doubles, four triples and four home runs overall. Brewer will play at Bowie State next year.
Kylee Gunkel, Reservoir, sophomore. The Gators made their second straight appearance in the region final this spring, and Gunkel’s poise in the circle was a major reason why. In Reservoir’s three playoff games, the sophomore held each opponent to three runs or less.
On the season in county play, she posted a league-best 88 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.04. She had several dominant efforts during the regular season as well, including a 16-strikeout game in a 10-2 victory over Long Reach in early April.
“Kylee was one of the more effective pitchers in the county this season because of her ability to hit spots and use effective velocity to control the games. She was voted as our most valuable player,” Reservoir coach Julie Frisvold said.
Offensively, she hit for a .411 average with 17 RBI in the middle of the Gators’ lineup.
Samantha Hobert, Howard, sophomore. Even coming off a sparkling freshman campaign that earned her a spot on first-team All-County, Hobert still managed to outdo herself in almost every aspect this spring. She finished as the county leader in ERA (1.75) and wins (10) while striking out 63 batters in 76 innings pitched in league play.
She added a screwball to her arsenal, which allowed her to attack hitters on both sides of the plate.
“Having the experience of being in those big situations before, you could see that she really wanted the ball with the game on the line. She’s a true gamer,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “Sam doesn’t really throw the ball by people, but she knows how to pitch and keep batters off balance.”
Among her best performances came against Hammond late in the regular season, holding the first-place Golden Bears to just four hits in a 3-0 victory that helped the Lions secure a share of the county championship. Hobert didn’t get many plate appearances late in the year, but she did finish the season with a .333 average in 15 at-bats.
Hailey Ramberg, Long Reach, senior. The power-hitting backstop was among the county’s most feared hitters this spring after a first-team All-County junior season. That reputation allowed her to draw a county-leading 18 walks this season, several of which were intentional. However, she also backed up the scouting report, tying for the county lead with five home runs in league play.
Ramberg ended up with a .439 batting average, 20 runs and 21 RBI. Just as important was her value defensively, throwing out runners and managing the pitching staff.
“Hailey is a force in our lineup and makes things happen. But besides being a power hitter, she is one of the most dominant catchers I have ever had the pleasure of watching,” Long Reach coach Melissa Boardman said. “She threw out 11 of 15 girls that attempted to steal on her.”
Among her best games was a 3-for-3, two-homer performance in a win over Mt. Hebron.
Paige Eakes, Howard, junior. As far as junior leaders go, there were few better than Eakes this spring. Whether it was behind the plate or playing a handful of games at shortstop, she was the engine that kept the Lions going en route to earning a share of the county title.
“She was absolutely my coach on the field. She will come up to me and not only evaluate the batters on the other team but also evaluate what we are doing on the field,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “Her insight is invaluable, and she also handled the pressure situations very well both on defense and at the plate.”
Eakes nearly doubled her extra-base hits this season with a total of 11, including a county-best four triples against league opponents. She finished with a .460 average, 24 RBI and 16 runs scored. Among her best games was a three-hit, four-RBI effort in a win over Atholton. She hit a home run and a double in the triumph.
Madi Costigan, Marriotts Ridge, junior. Among the area’s more versatile players, Costigan saw time and excelled at shortstop, third base and pitcher this spring. Despite moving around, she boasted a .917 fielding percentage by season’s end with 29 assists. In the circle, Costigan was also second in the county with a 2.22 ERA in 28.1 innings against league opponents.
Offensively, she was Marriotts Ridge’s team leader with 31 hits and a .564 batting average — fourth highest in the county. She also added 22 runs scored and 21 RBI in league games. Among her best efforts was a 4-for-5 day with four RBI in a regular-season win over Long Reach.
“Madi was one of our leaders on and off the field,” Marriotts Ridge coach Renard Parson said. “She has a very high softball IQ and is a triple threat at the plate, to go along with being a solid defender on the left side of the infield.”
Kieran Davis, Mt. Hebron, senior. A four-year starter for the Vikings who made second team All-County as a junior, Davis posted eye-popping numbers offensively this spring.“She possessed hitting potential that could change the course of a game with a single swing,” Mt. Hebron coach Mark Graydon said. “Kieran led the team in all offensive categories and was a constant, steady presence on first base.”
As Mt. Hebron’s cleanup hitter, Davis hit both for average and power. She was second in the county with a batting average of .635 in league play, smacking nine doubles, a triple and a home run with 22 RBI and 17 runs scored.
She had some impressive performances, including a 4-for-4 day with five RBI against Howard and a two-run home run in an extra-inning win over Reservoir.
Jenna Kenyon, River Hill, senior. After battling back from a torn ACL as a freshman and then serving primarily as a pitcher the last two years, Kenyon found a home at shortstop this spring and served as a guiding force for a resurgent Hawks team.
“I think everything just really fell into place for her this year, and she was exactly the kind of leader we needed her to be,” River Hill coach Marni Rosenbaum said. “She was always hustling, always giving it 100 percent and the rest of the team fed off of that. And offensively, she went from being primarily a slap hitter to someone who could swing away and drive the ball with consistency.”
Kenyon finished with the county’s third-best batting average at .569 and ended up leading the league in runs scored with 31. She added 20 RBI, five doubles and 11 walks. A 4-for-4 day, including a double, win a lopsided victory over Glenelg was among her season highlights.
Lauren Marcotte, Centennial, junior. Earning first-team All-County recognition for the third straight season, Marcotte continued her progression as not only an offensive leader but also as a shutdown defender at shortstop.
“Each year she gets better and better and she continues to make plays that you don’t think are even possible to make in high school softball. She’s just that good,” Centennial coach Katie Grimm said. “She's an extreme competitor that does not let any one out work her —that really sets the tone for the whole team. Offensively, she's a consistent, steady and powerful hitter.”
Marcotte finished with a county-leading 45 assists this season, posted a .931 fielding percentage and had a hand in four double plays for the Eagles. On offense, she was the Eagles’ team leader in almost every category — hits (23), RBI (22), runs scored (16), stolen bases (10), extra-base hits (12) and batting average (.460). Among the season highlights was driving in the walk-off run in a win over Reservoir and a multi-hit day in an extra-inning playoff victory over Long Reach.
Delanie Vintz, River Hill, senior. A four-year starter who was at the heart of the Hawks turning the program around the last couple seasons, Vintz was the model of consistency both on defense and offense. She split time early in the season at catcher before settling in as the team’s everyday third baseman.
At the plate, she finished among the top 10 in the county this season in hits (30), batting average (.546), runs scored (26) and RBI (27). She finished her career with 105 hits. Among her season highlights this year was a 2-for-4 day that included a home run and four RBI in a regular-season win over Marriotts Ridge.
“You always knew what you were going to get from Delanie … that effort was always there. And I think, she’s a player that likes the pressure situations,” River Hill coach Marni Rosenbaum said. “She wanted to be at the plate with the game on the line, or to have the ball hit to her for the last out. She really embraced that leadership position as a senior.”
Julia Colton, Howard, senior. A second-team All-County honoree last spring, Colton transformed herself from being primarily a slap-hitter early in her career into one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the area. She still boasted the ability to put the ball on the ground and leg out base hits, but — after an intense offseason workout regimen — she also showcased a newfound power stroke.
Colton, who had just seven extra-base hits and no home runs as a junior, exploded for 12 extra-base hits, 24 RBI, 24 runs scored and a county-leading five long balls in her final high school season. No game better exemplified her improved power than her two-homer, five-RBI game to lead the Lions to a win over River Hill in early April.
“She really blossomed this year, and I give a ton of credit to the work she put in with her personal trainer. She was absolutely drilling the ball, and I think teams really struggled to figure out how to pitch to her,” Howard coach Chuck Rice said. “If they pitched it outside, she wasn’t afraid to still poke it the other way. And now this season, if they pitched her inside, she would turn on it and hit it over the fence.”
Colton, who finished with a batting average of .474 this year, has signed to continue her softball career at UMBC.
Meghan Hughes, Marriotts Ridge, junior. Hughes was a second-team selection as a sophomore and continued her progression to become a leader for the Mustangs this spring. A lingering injury affected her pitching abilities early in the season, but she was a consistent force defensively in center field and also was among the county’s top dual threats in terms of power and speed at the plate.
“Megan’s ability to get to balls in the gap make her — along with her arm strength and accuracy — one of the best outfielders,” Marriotts Ridge coach Renard Parson said. “To go along with that, she has the ability to put pressure on defenses with her great speed and remarkable power to all fields.”
Hughes also pitched 31.1 innings, striking out 37 batters and earning three victories, including a complete-game effort to close the regular season against River Hill.
But it was her hitting that stood out the most. She batted .528 this season, while leading Marriotts Ridge with 27 RBI and 26 runs scored against league opponents. Among her best games was in the Mustangs’ comeback win over Glenelg, in which she hit a double and a three-run home run.
Kamryn Walker, Long Reach, senior. A repeat first-team All-County selection, Walker combined with fellow senior Hailey Ramberg to make up quite the one-two punch for the Lightning in the heart of the order. While her offensive numbers were slightly down from her junior season, she still posted 10 extra-base hits, 21 runs scored, 18 RBI and a .375 average.
Walker, who will play at Bowie State next year, had her best offensive games against Oakland Mills (4-for-5, home run and six RBI) and Atholton (2-for-5, grand slam).
But just as valuable was Walker’s defensive presence in the outfield, covering a ton of ground and finishing with 27 putouts.
“Although Kamryn is a consistent and very successful hitter, she is a force in the field. She can play anywhere, but has become a top player in center field,” Long Reach coach Melissa Boardman said. “Kam has the highest fielding percentage on the team and had two double plays from center.”
Kathryn Hoffman, Glenelg, junior. After taking a couple years off from softball to focus on field hockey, Hoffman returned to the sport this spring and did a little bit of everything in the field and at the plate for the Gladiators. She spent most of her time defensively in center field, making no errors and 17 putouts, but also was a very capable pitcher.
In the team’s 5-0 playoff win over Wilde Lake, Hoffman allowed just three hits and struck out seven in a complete-game effort.
Offensively, she hit for a team-best .490 average to go along with 24 runs scored, 10 RBI and eight stolen bases. One of her most important games at the plate came in Glenelg’s upset of county-champion Hammond in the playoffs. In the victory, Hoffman delivered a team-high three RBI.
“Kathryn’s work ethic is unmatched, and you would never know she took time off, as she persevered in whatever position she played,” Glenelg coach Shannon Riley said. “Kat always strives to be better, and her athleticism is something you cannot teach.”