By Kary Booher (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
Motivated. Hungry. Laser-focused.
Any of those words describe the Clever High School softball team as the curtain rises on this season. After all, what was shaping up to be a memorable spring last year ended abruptly, as the team couldn’t play districts because of COVID-19.
“We are ready to finish out a season,” Clever coach Cheryl Grant said. “At the end of the season, we were playing well and then lost the rest of the season in districts due to COVID. I have three seniors that are hungry to see what they can accomplish this year. The kids have worked hard in the offseason and are ready to get started.”
The Lady Jays were 16-8 last year, and now hope to challenge Skyline and Strafford in the Mid-Lakes Conference and give themselves a chance again in districts.
Those three seniors? They are pitcher Kylie Wenger, shortstop Kenna Wise and G’Anna Reavis.
Wenger was 11-4 last year, finished with a 3.39 earned run average and a 1.53 WHIP. She struck out 92 batters and issued 24 walks. She also batted .552 with a 1.069 slugging percentage, driving in 40 runs.
Wenger was first team all-conference as a utility, and first team all-district as a pitcher and second team all-region as a pitcher.
“She has improved her speed and her variety of pitches for this year,” Grant said. “She is one of our key bats so if she isn’t pitching she will be in the lineup.”
The projected lineup could see Wise at leadoff, followed by Rylee King, Wenger, Chloe Stidham and Reavis.
Wise set a state record with 42 steals (on 42 attempts) last season, when she batted .514 with a .593 on-base percentage and .693 slugging percentage. Additionally, she earned second team All-State in addition to first-team honors in the Mid-Lakes, district and region. She has signed to play volleyball at Evangel University.
“She is a proven leader and has a high softball IQ,” Grant said. “She is one of the quickest kids I have ever seen. She bats in our leadoff spot and does a great job of reading the defense to get the ball down and on first.”
Reavis played third base last season but may move to another position. She batted .522 last year, with a .584 on-base percentage and .886 slugging percentage. That earned her second team all-conference honors, in addition to first-team honors in the district and region.
“She is a strong personality that can lift the team up,” Grant said.
The rest of the projected lineup includes junior catcher Chloe Stidham, first baseman Lindy Twigg, perhaps King at second base and perhaps an all-junior outfield in center fielder Sydnee Thrasher, left fielder Savannah Ketcherside and right fielder Ambryah Moore. Look for Amy Kozisek as a designated hitter.
Stidham earned first-team honors in the region, district and conference.
“She calls all the pitches and runs the team from behind the plate,” Grant said. “I look for her to take on a leadership role this year.”
Twigg is reliable at first base, with a .951 fielding percentage. King was second team all-region and earned first-team honors in the district and conference. She batted .415, had a .935 fielding percentage in the outfield and her versatility could be significant this spring.
“(Thrasher) is very fast and covers the outfield well,” Grant said. “Ketcherside tracks the ball well off the bat, is fast and can cover a lot of ground.”
Depth-wise, Clever could have freshman catcher Piper Steele, junior Abigail Garrett at first and Karli Hedge at third base. Thrasher could be a relief pitcher.
Overall, Clever anticipates 22 players on the roster.
“The girls have played together and really gelled as a team,” Grant said. “They have a good understanding of what each can do and play well together.”
Clever plays in the Purdy jamboree on March 14, and the season opener is the Mid-Lakes Tournament on March 19 at Strafford.
“Realistically I think that we could go deep in the season,” Grant said. “We have a strong team returning, and we matched up well with most teams we faced last year. We added some new teams this year to the schedule to give us a tougher schedule.”