By Matt Turer — @MattTurer (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
HEAD COACH: Cheryl Grant
2017 RECORD: 14-7 (6-1 SWCL)
2017 POSTSEASON: DISTRICT SEMIS: Lost 5-3 to Southwest (Washburn)
RETURNING PLAYERS: Ashten Graaf, Abi Menzies, Ashley Pearce, Cara Brown
Clever faces a bit of a rebuild after graduating a talented senior class headlined by utility player Emily Mendenhall and catcher Allison Nolan.
That rebuild started a couple weeks before 2017 ended after an injury ended Mendenhall’s season, putting the Blue Jays in a tough position on the mound without a clear No. 2 pitcher. Clever was 12-3 before that injury and closed the season by dropping three out of four.
Head coach Cheryl Grant recognizes that there’s some growing that needs to happen before Clever can get back to the team that’s been able to compete for district titles the past few seasons.
“We plan to practice and play hard getting better every day,” Grant said. “This is a rebuilding year for us with a lot of young players with only one returning senior.”
A BUILDING BLOCK FOR THE FUTURE
Mendenhall was Clever’s only all-state selection, but junior outfielder Abi Menzies (.459 AVG, 6 2B, 5 3B, 1 HR, 23 R, 13 RBI, 1.325 OPS) is back and was a member of last year’s 2017 All O-Zone Spring Softball Team.
“Abi has a lot of potential, she is a tremendous athlete and can play just about any position,” Grant said. “Her favorite is the outfield, but I know she will have to help out on the mound. I look for her to take a strong leadership role and play like she always does: lights out.”
STARTING THE REBUILD
Behind Menzies exists just three other returners from last year’s group: Ashten Graaf (.321 AVG., .901 OPS), Ashley Pearce (.328 AVG), Cara Brown.
Brown didn’t see much varsity time in 2017 but is expected to be a big contributor in 2018.
Grant isn’t assigning positions to her group with a lot of shifting expected thanks to the roster re-haul. These three and Menzies will be looked to fill leadership roles and help contribute with development of Clever’s younger players.
Newcomers Emily Hatfield, Abby Whiteman and Sierra Adkins are expected to contribute with significant varsity time in 2018. Hatfield is an outfielder with good speed. Whiteman an infielder with a good baseball IQ who may see time at catcher as well. Adkins is a freshman who will see time on the mound.
“The girls would love nothing better than to make a run at the conference title,” Grant said. “We plan to get better and play smart throughout the year. We are young, but we have a lot of dedicated players who know how to work hard.”
Clever was 6-1 in SWCL play last season.