High school softball: Clarke frequently left the park

Published 12:01 am Sunday, May 29, 2022

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — The best individual softball season in Rowan County history?

West Rowan head coach Jimmy Greene insists that we just witnessed it — at least for a non-pitcher.

It’s hard to argue with numbers. West’s 6-foot shortstop Emma Clarke put up crazy ones and is the Post’s Rowan County Player of the Year.

Clarke not only batted .575, it was a vicious .575, with 13 homers, eight doubles and four triples.

The sophomore actually launched 15 homers this season, but the Falcons never got to complete a game at West Stanly that was suspended moments after Clarke’s second homer of the day tied the score in the fifth inning.

Clarke stole 15 bases, had 42 hits, scored 39 runs, drove in an astounding 54 runs. West’s record officially was 20-6, but one of those wins was by forfeit, so the Falcons took the field 25 times. Clarke averaged 2.16 RBIs per contest.

“She’s an elite player and has to be the state’s best player who isn’t a pitcher,” Greene said. “When Emma just relaxes and plays and gets it flowing, she’s an incredible sight.  She’s not only as good a hitter as I’ve ever seen, she can field and she can fly on the bases. I’ve had girls who played for West come out to watch her for the first time and it’s like, ‘Oh my God! I knew she was good, but I had no idea she was that good.'”

Maybe all you need to know is that on the night West Rowan’s season ended in the second round of the 3A state playoffs at Central Cabarrus, Clarke never got to take a swing. She walked every time she went to the plate. Clarke had come close to beating Central Cabarrus in the previous meeting by smashing a pair of two-run homers. The Vikings had seen enough.

“One of my goals was to get more hits than walks,” Clarke said. “Fortunately, I had great player hitting behind me. Teams usually pitched to me because (Appalachian State commit) Brooke Kennerly was coming up next. Most teams didn’t want to put a runner on base for her.”

Clarke made a transition this year to playing shortstop. Defense was her biggest concern.

“Shortstop is a very big role, and we had a great one last year in Allison Ennis,” Clarke said. “Those were big shoes to fill. I put in a lot of work there to be as good as I could be.”

Her glove was fine, but it was her bat that roared. In the county games, West’s contests against East, South and Carson, all of whom had teams good enough to make the playoffs, Clarke was supernatural. She went 16-for-24 in those seven games with five homers and 21 RBIs. She got it done even against the teams that knew better than anyone how to pitch to her.

But maybe there is no good way to pitch to her. She hits homers on low pitches or high ones. She can pull an inside pitch 100 feet over the fence or send an outside pitch into orbit over  the right-field wall.

“I hit a homer against Carson that was probably my favorite moment of the season, but the most important thing was we won all of those county games,” Clarke said.

Clarke also excels for the Falcons in volleyball and basketball, so her time as the county’s most celebrated year-round female athlete is just around the corner.

“To the 8-year-olds in our part of the county, she’s already a rock star,” Greene said. “She’s got a cheering section. They look up to her, and she understands what that means. She’s a great role model.”

Clarke grew up looking up to her cousins Peyton and Parker Greene who were dynamic players in their days for the Falcons. Peyton and Parker are Coach Greene’s daughters, which makes Clarke his niece.

Clarke is the daughter of former West head softball coach Elizabeth Greene Clarke. Her husband is Ken Clarke, a notable local golfer and former basketball star. Emma has the advantage of great genetics, but she has added sensational work ethic to maximize her talent.

“She’s been training with K.P. Parks for strength and agility for a long while now,” Greene said. “She’s always hitting, always lifting, always working to get better every day at something.”

Greene tried to make his niece a pitcher when she was about 10. That didn’t take — she hated it — but she loves everything else about the game.

“I really enjoy volleyball and basketball and I plan on continuing with those sports in high school because I love staying busy,” Clarke said. “But softball is my thing. On a softball field, I feel a different kind of confidence than I have in volleyball and basketball.”

Clarke has a huge summer ahead of her. She’ll be playing with other elite players on a travel team that will venture as far away as California and Colorado for tournaments.

Clarke is on the radar for big-time college programs, even though they can’t directly contact her yet. She’s gone to camps and wowed coaches at schools such as Georgia, Tennessee and Florida State.

“You can see which coaches are interested in her because they follow her on Twitter,” Greene said with a laugh. “They like everything Emma tweets.”

On Sept. 1 of her junior year, college coaches will be able to personally contact Clarke and make their recruiting pitches.

That’s when her life is going to get really busy. She could be the Jalon Walker of Rowan County softball. There’s not much doubt she’s going to be the most heavily recruited Rowan softball player ever.

Greene said next season Clarke will be the lead-off batter for West, so opposing coaches can start worrying about that now.

“Emma swung at some high pitches when we lost to Central Cabarrus early in the year, and I yelled at her so hard that my hat fell off,” Greene said. “But that was the only bad game she had out of 25. That’s a girl who was born to play on the dirt.”


All-Rowan County

Coach of the Year — Jimmy Greene, West— Falcons were 20-6 overall and 7-0 in county games

First team

Emma Clarke, West, Soph.  — Her monster season included 16 hits, five homers and 21 RBIs in the Falcons’  seven games against Rowan opponents

Mac Misenheimer, East, Sr. — Chowan signee was voted South Piedmont Conference Player of the Year, batted .444, scored 30 runs, led a young team

Landry Stewart, Carson, Jr. — USC Upstate commit batted .500 with 35 runs scored and 19 RBIs

Brooke Kennerly, West, Jr. — App State commit produced four homers, 30 RBIs, batted .397

Abby Nixon, Carson, Sr. — Lenoir-Rhyne signee was coming off ACL injury, but batted .351 with 10 doubles, 29 RBIs

Kenadi Sproul, West, Sr. — Fast table-setter for Clarke and Kennerly stole 24 bases and scored 36 runs while batting .379

Lonna Addison, Carson, Jr. — Produced five homers and 27 RBIs, while handling most of the pitching for the Cougars

Katie Peeler, Salisbury, Soph. — Batted .500 with five homers and 16 extra-base hits, struck out 137 batters

Maddie Roberts, East, Soph. — Young catcher batted .468 with two homers, 22 RBIs.

Kynlee Dextraze, South, Fr. — Shortstop was best offensive player on improved team, with .364, two homers, 21 RBIs

Arabelle Shulenberger, West. Fr. — Was at her best in the circle in the big games, batted .351

Ashlee Ennis, West, Jr. — Batted .382, scored 26 runs, had a flawless defensive season in center field

Eleni Miller, East, Fr. — Batted .409 with 22 RBIs and had eight pitching wins

Second team

Ashley Yang, Salisbury, Fr. — Shortstop batted .472 with five triples, scored 28 runs

Kori Miller, East, Fr. — Batted .401 with 22 RBIs

Makayla Johnson, Carson, Sr. — Catcher batted .376 with 21 RBIs

Allie Burns, Carson, Sr. — Catawba signee batted. 329 and scored 21 runs

Carmen Thomas, South, Fr. — Drove in 18 runs while scoring 22 for the Raiders, stole 15 bases

Addie Plott, East, Fr. — Batted .428 and scored 22 runs

Lexie Ritchie, South, Fr. — A program difference-maker, she itched a perfect game for the Raiders, contributed 12 RBIs at the plate

EA Nance, West, Fr. — Smacked big home runs against East Rowan and Carson

Caroline Cozart, Salisbury, Jr. — Batted .385 with 17 RBIs

Karsen Simpson, West, Jr. — Third baseman had 15 RBIs

Kali Nelson, South, Sr. — Missed some games, but batted .357 and made diving catches

Bailey Yon, South, Jr. — Had 20 hits and did a great job behind the plate

Kayla Craven, North, Soph. — The catcher emerged  as North’s top player after pitcher Chloee Stoner was injured early in the season