Entering 2020, Clarke softball is on the cusp of jumping into the next tier of the South Central Conference.
The Lady Indians ended 2019 with a 12-21 record, but did well in conference play, going 7-5. With a shortened season and only playing each conference opponent once, head coach Tricia Bolton said she feels Clarke has an opportunity to play well and progress in the conference.
“I really do,” Bolton said. “We lost some really close games last year to some teams, just finishing games. ... I think defensively we’re ready. Our pitching staff, our starting pitcher (are ready).”
With four seniors returning to the team, Bolton had them coordinating workouts with underclassmen before the season started. Each senior took what Bolton called “the ship” to “get their ship going in the right direction” for the season.
The seniors for Clarke have shown Bolton they’re ready for the season, even with COVID-19 delaying the start and creating a hectic schedule.
“My seniors, I was able to observe them at open gyms this winter,” Bolton said. “They’ve really stepped up this year from the get-go. At open gyms I saw them leading the kids, always working hard and leading by example and things like that. They’ve done an awesome job of that.”
This season, the Lady Indians will have six returning starters, but only two playing the same position.
Bolton said the team will have some learning to do, but the experience the group has will help them focus on the process of improvement.
The most experience comes from starting pitcher and now-senior Alexis Watson. She started her career in eighth grade and progressed into the team’s leading pitcher last season. Throwing 129 2/3 innings last year, Watson took the bulk of the work on the mound while putting up a 3.92 ERA.
Bolton said Watson is having some arm issues early in the season but can keep her fresh by rotating Emma Bolton, who ranked fifth in conference ERA with 2.68 average, and an incoming freshman pitcher this year.
“(Emma Bolton) has stepped up and put a lot more movement on the ball this year and has gained like six miles per hour on her ball,” Tricia Bolton said. “We have a freshman pitcher who has also really put some speed on hers, is really accurate and is able to move the ball more this year. I think our pitching staff is going to be ready to go.”
Defensively, Tricia Bolton expects the Lady Indians to be solid as well with players like Kiaya Dunbar moving around the infield after starting at second base last season and returning outfielders that will make an impact.
“I think the biggest difference is kids figuring out their new spots,” Tricia Bolton said. “Getting comfortable and confident in positions they’re going to be playing this year.”
At the plate, the Lady Indians have a few strong pieces coming back. Emma Bolton, Sadie Marke and Taylor Kartchner combined for a .294 average at the plate, driving in a combined 50 runs.
With a solid core to return at the plate and the major strength of the team on the mound, Clarke has an opportunity to make the next leap as a program to try and knock off Centerville and Knoxville as the next level of the South Central Conference.
“I’m excited to be on the field,” Tricia Bolton said. “The girls are excited. We’re ready to go, and just excited to see where it goes.