High school softball: Tennessee commit Clarke ranked as one of nation’s best

Published 12:01 am Thursday, September 22, 2022

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — For a while the big decision seemed like an impossible one for Emma Clarke to make, but in the end, it turned out to be a no-brainer.

“I’m standing out there on the softball field at the University of Tennessee, and that’s when I realized it,” Clarke said. “This it where it feels right. This is where it feels like home. This is where I can see myself spending four fun years.”

Clarke, a West Rowan junior with two high school softball seasons still in front of her, was recruited by a lot of colleges, but deep in her heart, it was the Vols in the lead all along.

She’d gone to their camps. They’d come to her games for a long time.

They really wanted her. She really wanted them.

“The coaching staff, the players, the facilities, the school,” Clarke said. “It all added up. Tennessee has everything you could possibly want.”

Tennessee is a top-tier team in the Southeastern Conference, a top-tier softball league.  The Vols have produced national runner-up finishes.

Tennessee is a school and an athletic program that is all-in when it comes to softball. Sherri Parker Lee Stadium includes 2,200 seats and a giant video board that can provide instant replays.

Everything about the UT softball clubhouse is state-of-the-art —  from the whirlpools to the lockers to the video games. The four monstrous batting cages —  with 16-by-60 foot dimensions — are as impressive as anyone in the sport can offer.

One of the tough things about being highly recruited is there are a lot of miserable coaches once a decision is made. Only one school is going to wind up smiling.

Clarke made phone calls to the rest of her final four — Georgia, Florida State and Virginia — to break the bad news. That’s not an easy thing for a teenager to do, but she handled that responsibility like an adult.

“They were disappointed, but they respected my decision,” Clarke said. “They understood and they all wished me the best.”

Why all the fuss about Clarke?

Well, she’s one of the highest rated Rowan County high school athletes ever. That includes all sports.

Extra Inning Softball ranks her eighth nationally in the Class of 2024.

“It’s amazing when you see your name on a national list like that,” Clarke said. “They take recommendations from high school coaches and then they take a good look at the stats. A lot of the girls who are on there, I already know from camps or from playing against them.”

As a sophomore, Clarke put up what may have been the greatest offensive season in county history when you combine batting average with power. She hit .575 with 13 homers and an astounding 54 RBIs for the Falcons. She averaged 2.2 RBIs per game.

Assuming good health and assuming everyone doesn’t intentionally walk her as soon as she gets off the bus, she’ll break every county hitting record during the next two seasons.

Throw in a 6-foot frame, exceptional running speed, defensive versatility, strong grades and zero character issues, and it’s no mystery why Clarke was in such demand.

Clarke played shortstop for West last season, but could have excelled at any position except pitcher. She’s gotten lots of experience at first base, catcher and outfield as well as shortstop.

“We talked about what position I’d play in college and I think it just depends on what other girls Tennessee is able to recruit,” Clarke said. “I can be happy at any position.”

West head coach Jimmy Greene, who also is Clarke’s uncle, and Monte Sherrill, the Pfeiffer legend who is her travel ball coach, have helped mold Clarke into a remarkable player. She’s put in the time and work to become great at softball, while still playing a very significant role for West’s volleyball and basketball teams. She’s not a superstar in those other two sports, but she’s very good, an all-conference level player on potential conference champions.

Volleyball season is ongoing — West leads the South Piedmont Conference — while basketball is just around the corner. Those sports will keep Clarke busy until it’s time to launch more balls out of the park. Her line-drive power is unique. When she connects, she makes parks look way too small.

“I want to get a lot of RBIs again, but my big goal for my junior year is to be a better leader,” Clarke said. “We graduated a really good senior leader (Kenadi Sproul) and we have to replace that. I also want to come through more often in the toughest situations against the toughest pitchers. I want to be a person the team knows it can depend on.”

While the athletic skills are obvious, Clarke hopes to shine in the classroom at Tennessee, as well.

She plans a major in the biology/chemistry field. Once the softballs stop flying, dental school and a career as an orthodontist is her goal.

“One of the best things about Tennessee is they told me I could major in whatever I wanted to,” Clarke said. “They weren’t going to limit me. Some schools want you to focus on athletics and they’ll discourage you from a major like biology.”