Maddie Taggart showed her durability last season as a sophomore when she pitched every inning of every game for the Atlantic City High School softball team.
Taggart and the Vikings won 14 games en route to the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference Division II title.
She was a first-team Press All-Star, but things weren't as perfect as they seemed. Taggart started having issues with her hip during the high school season.
"I knew something was wrong, but I started getting used to it," Taggart said.
The 16-year-old Brigantine resident continued to pitch through the hip injury for her traveling summer team.
"My hip would pop out," Taggart said with a laugh. "Then one time, my hip got stuck and it wouldn't pop back in.
"That's when I thought maybe I should go to the doctors."
Taggart learned she had a torn labrum in her hip. She tried physical therapy, but things only got worse. Taggart finally had surgery on Nov. 28 and was told she likely wouldn't be back in time for the high school season.
She didn't listen.
Last week, Taggart got full medical clearance.
Atlantic City coach Jason Grimes said it was a welcome sight watching Taggart play in a scrimmage with the team for the first time Thursday at Cedar Creek.
Taggart played first base and had a few at-bats. She pitched the final inning in relief.
"Just having her out there in any capacity is going to make our team better," said Grimes, who is trying to overcome the graduation of seven seniors from last season's team. "The girls really respond with her out there.
"She rehabbed really hard. That's a testament for her and how bad she wants to play, how much she loves the game."
Taggart had 110 strikeouts with just 22 walks last season. She had five shutouts, including a no-hitter. She also is one of the team's top hitters and likely will bat third to start the season.
She hasn't even ruled out pitching on opening day Tuesday at Oakcrest.
"It's getting there," Taggart said of the hip. "It's a lot better than I thought it would be. I can definitely see myself pitching on opening day. I'm just going to see how this week goes."
The Vikings lost seven seniors and have just one, Chantal Munoz, this season.
Sophomore Sierra Jordan had a solid freshman season last year in center field. Cassidy Shea will catch and bat fourth. Junior Claire Corbett will switch from second base to shortstop this season.
But much of the team's success this year will depend on how much Taggart is able to pitch.
Taggart is tough, but Grimes was quick to point out that he doesn't plan to rush his junior ace back to the mound before she's ready.
"I'm not going to push her too hard," Grimes said. "When she's ready to go and her parents are ready for her to go, we'll give it a shot.
"I didn't expect to have her at all this year, so anything at all she gives us is great."
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