When Ozark senior pitcher Abbie Clanton was in elementary school watching her older sister pitch for Ozark, she had one message for her future head coach Yancey Little.
“Coach Little, I will take you to state” is what Clanton remembers telling Little as a young girl.
Clanton has finally made good on that promise as the Tigers prepare to open play in the state semifinals Friday against Francis Howell, but the trip to get to this point has not been an easy one for Clanton.
Clanton pitched for Ozark as a freshman on varsity, and then in her sophomore year her role expanded even more.
Then disaster struck in the district title game her sophomore year.
"He (Coach Little) put me in the second inning (of the district championship). I got to my third batter and on the very last pitch of that third batter it was a curve ball,” Clanton said. “At that instant I just knew I tore something."
Her initial reaction was confirmed as Clanton had torn her labrum on that final pitch, which was an injury that would require a sixth-month rehab.
Clanton was able to pitch her junior year, but was still not quite the same.
"Last year as a junior she pitched probably at 75 or 80 percent," Little said. "She had been the ace before, but last year Brittany Nimmo, a freshman, came in and took over that ace role. I know that was hard for her (Clanton) to take."
The reduction in role was difficult for Clanton, but it is also where she found her motivation.
"My junior year it was kind of a struggle. I was probably only 80 or 90-percent back in the pitching shape I was before. It was tough. It was mentally tough, but she (Nimmo) is a good pitcher. She helped us win districts last year," Clanton said. "I thought she (Nimmo) worked hard (and) she worked over you and I thought you have to get better before next year if you want your spot back."
Clanton continued to work all summer long with a travel team along with her most consistent training partner, her grandfather.
"My grandpa, I believe he is 70 or 71, he still catches me to this day,” Clanton said. “He has taught me everything I know about pitching.”
The work has paid off as Clanton is finishing her high school career with her strongest season yet.
"She didn't throw with confidence (last year). She was scared to throw some pitches last year as a junior. This year she is confident and she is 100-percent," Little said. "She has really come into her own this year, especially here late in the season.”
Clanton will take the ball against Francis Howell at 2 p.m. on Friday in the state semifinals.