The final season of Grace Tafolla’s standout five-year career at West High has been one to remember.
And it has come after a season Tafolla would like to forget.
A year after a lingering back injury hampered Tafolla throughout a frustrating junior season, the West High shortstop is fully healthy and putting an exclamation point on her career.
“It was disappointing, it was tough,” Tafolla said of her junior season. “I was battling through some injuries and it kind of limited me but I think I got in my head too much last year, I wasn’t loose.”
After watching her offensive production dip to career-low numbers in her injury-riddled junior season, Tafolla is more than making up for it.
Tafolla has posted career highs in runs (33), doubles (13), triples (2), RBI (46) and walks (10) this season while dropping her strikeouts and errors to career lows.
She brings a career-best .470 batting average into Saturday’s Class 5A Region 6 semifinal where fourth-ranked West High will host Cedar Rapids Washington at 7 p.m.
“Last year she struggled a little bit at the plate but she has found the swing this year,” second-year West High coach Justin Lutjen said. “She has come back this year and has been such a great leader for us.”
A starter on West High’s first-ever state tournament team as a freshman in 2012 Tafolla followed with an all-state sophomore season in 2013.
Tafolla seemed poised for a breakthrough campaign as a junior, but it never came.
After tweaking her back during a spring weightlifting session, Taffolla considered taking some time off but instead continued her schedule that included basketball, softball and conditioning.
Despite the pain in her back, Tafolla didn’t miss much practice- or game-time last summer — however her performance suffered.
A .349 hitter her first three seasons, Tafolla batted just .262 as a junior, the lowest mark of her career.
“I just tweaked it and I should have taken some time off and I didn’t,” Tafolla said. “Some days were good and sometimes it was really painful.”
Fully healthy this summer Tafolla has turned in the season most expected was coming in 2014.
Her 46 RBI lead West High and she has struck out a career-low two times.
In 470 career at-bats Tafolla has struck out just 17 times.
Even with her impressive offensive production, Tafolla is most valuable for fourth-ranked West High in the field.
She has committed a career-low five errors this season at shortstop, helping West High rank second in Class 5A in fewest errors with 24.
“She has been unbelievable and I think it all starts with her defensively at shortstop,” Lutjen said. “She is the anchor of our defense and she doesn’t make mistakes. She makes every routine play and she even makes the difficult plays and on top of it she is so intelligent.
Thanks in part to Tafolla, West High ranks in the top 20 in the state and is second in Class 5A in runs allowed with 69.
“Grace is back to diving around and making all the plays,” West High senior pitcher Laynie Whitehead said. “She is just a great athlete and I knew she would bounce back after having that injury lagging on her last year.”
Even with the excruciating pain in her lower back and the loss of production, the most difficult part of last season for Tafolla was the ending.
West High fell to Davenport West in the regional semifinals, ending the season 29-10.
Tafolla has already made amends from her disappointing individual performance last season, but is focused on making up for the Women of Troy’s hard-to-swallow ending.
Thanks to Tafolla’s resurgence West High enters the postseason 33-5 and is intent on returning to the state tournament for the second time in school history.
“Last week we had a couple of loses and I think that really was an eye-opener and we got a lot better because of it, I think we are peaking at the right time,” Tafolla said. “I think we have a ton of confidence going in and as long as we relax and play our game Saturday I think we’ll be just fine.”
Reach Ryan Murken at 319-339-7369 or firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @rmmurken.
•Batting Average: .470
•Fielding percentage: .959