High school softball: Lots of walks, but West’s Clarke still produced

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 10, 2023

By Mike London

MOUNT ULLA — West Rowan rising senior Emma Clarke spent Wednesday playing catch with her father and packing a suitcase.

It was the lull before the storm. Clarke will be all over the place this summer, with major softball tournaments scheduled for Florida, Georgia, Colorado and South Carolina.

The difference between this summer and the summer of 2022 is that Clarke now knows where she’s going to college. She committed to Tennessee last fall and is regarded as one of the prize recruits nationally in the Class of 2024.

“So no stress this summer,” Clarke said. “Just lots of fun playing softball.”

While Clarke is arguably the best non-pitching softball player in the state, she is only the Rowan County Co-Player of the Year. That doesn’t take anything away from Clarke, who was nothing short of amazing and has a ceiling in the stratosphere. But there was a need to recognize Carson’s Lonna Addison, who had one of the greatest two-way seasons in county history. Addison hit almost as well as Clarke, while putting up dazzling numbers in the circle.

Clarke’s stats as a sophomore were mind-boggling — a .575 batting average, 15 homers and 54 RBIs in 25 games.

Her junior stats weren’t quite as astounding simply because opponents got tired of her hitting homers and doubles and started walking her, sometimes by pointing to first base for an intentional pass, sometimes by just throwing four pitches well outside the strike zone. As the games got tougher and tighter at the end of the season, the percentage of walks increased.

Clarke marched to the plate 89 times in 23 games, but with 24 walks, three HBPs and two sac flies, she only had 60 official at-bats.

She made her swings count. She batted .567, scored 40 runs and drove in 32. She produced 10 homers, four triples and seven doubles.

With all those walks, Clarke’s on-base percentage was .685. Her OPS, which is on-base percentage plus slugging percentage, was an outrageous 2.002. An OPS of 1.000 is considered outstanding, and she doubled that.

“Sophomore year, when they walked me, I let it hurt me, because I’d get mad and maybe a little frustrated,” Clarke said. “But it was different this year. When they walked me, I looked at it as respect, respect that I had earned, and I was determined to hurt them more than they hurt me. If they gave me first base, my mindset was to steal second.”

That’s another big part of Clarke’s game. She’s much more than just a slugger. She runs exceptionally well and as a 6-footer, her long legs eat up the base paths in a hurry. She stole 22 bases.

Defensively, Clarke is also a huge asset. She’s an agile shortstop despite the unusual height the brings to the position. She plays shortstop with considerable range and no one has ever made more leaping catches than Clarke does.

Clarke, as most Rowan sports fans know, is a year-round force in West athletics. As an All-State volleyball player, she was one of the leaders for a conference champion team and she was a key player for the undefeated basketball team that won the 3A state championship.

But while she’s outstanding in volleyball and solid in basketball, softball is definitely her thing. She also led West to championships in her main sport.

“What people many not know about me is how hard it is to immediately switch sports at the start of a season,” Clarke said. “Our softball team was playing Mooresville early in the season when I was still doing basketball. It was hard for me to watch my teammates play softball without me, but during their seasons, I give everything I have to volleyball and to basketball. Softball is what I do. but I work hard at all three sports.”

Clarke is extremely talented, so it’s easy to overlook the work she puts in, but she definitely puts in the time to be great.

She loves the game and is a great ambassador for the game when she interacts with the many young fans who idolize her.

“She’s probably the best softball player ever to come through the county,” West coach Jimmy Greene said. “But she’s also been one of the best teammates. When you’re as good as Emma is, you’re going to have to deal with some jealousy, but she never has anything bad to say about anyone. She loves her teammates and she loves the game. All those big-time college coaches that came to watch her, they were drawn not just because of her ability, but because they could see how much she loves playing softball.”

West’s 20-4-1 season ended in the third round of the playoffs with a loss to East Lincoln that could’ve gone either way. East Lincoln won the state championship.