An in-game adjustment and an off-season adjustment helped carry Clever to an 8-5 comeback victory against Sparta on Tuesday.
Shortstop Chloe Stidham’s two-run double highlighted the Lady Jays’ six-run seventh inning rally from a 5-2 deficit.
Stidham ripped both of her hits, including her seventh-inning double, to the right-center gap. It was no coincidence the right-hander went the opposite way for both hits.
“I realized I needed to adjust where I was in the batter’s box to be able to hit it in the (right-center) gap,” Sidham said. “I thought I was going to ground out to third, so I twisted and (positioned) myself (toward right) because before I was hitting to the left side.”
“That’s a smart player and what you expect out of one of your senior leaders,” coach Cheryl Grant said.
Clever (2-1) reached Sparta pitcher Natalie Wilks for four hits in the seventh, after being kept in check through six innings. Also banging out hits in the seventh were Sydnee Thrasher, Karlie Hedge and Ambryah Moore.
Another adjustment Stidham made over the course of the game was laying off of Wilks’ deadly changeup.
"I was trying to hold back,” Stidham said. “If it was a strike, it was a strike. I wasn’t going to swing.”
Clever’s comeback made for a stunning turn of events. The Lady Jays beat Sparta 2-0 in last year’s Class 2 District 11 championship game. But Clever was hit hard by graduation and the Lady Trojans returned everyone.
“This is a huge confidence-lifter and an all-around great team effort,” Grant said. “We knew what we were coming into against Sparta. They’re a great ball club and have one of the best pitchers around. Anytime you can hit Natalie, that’s a good win. We talked about getting the bat on the ball and that if we could get rolling, we can play with them.”
Wilks is an extremely polished pitcher who has logged as many innings during club ball over the years as any pitcher in SWMO. Meanwhile, Thrasher had only 24 innings of experience in the center circle last year as a junior.
A converted center fielder, Thrasher held her own with a compact delivery that keeps her balanced and fresh.
“I keep it very simple,” Thrasher said. “I feel like I changed (my delivery) every year, but I decided the less movement, the less I’m going to be tired by the end of the game.”
Thrasher doesn’t generate exceptional power with her delivery and thus doesn’t overpower many hitters. But she throws strikes and by pitching to contact, she’ll happily rely on Clever’s infielders and outfielders to support her.
“I can’t strike everyone out, but can give hitters pitches that they’re going to hit into the ground and my fielders are going to make outs,” Thrasher said. “I’m very proud that I have a strong defense behind me. That means everything. I have so much confidence in everyone behind me that I can calm myself down whenever I get too hyped up.”
“She trusts us out in the field,” said Stidham, who has moved from second base to shortstop.
Prior to this year, Thrasher was a three-year starting center fielder.
“I’m a center fielder at heart and had some fears about playing a position I hadn’t really played before,” she said. “But even if I’m not having the best game, I know the girls behind me are going to have my back."
Thrasher also values being able to throw to catcher Piper Steele.
"I’ve got a great catcher who is going to call great pitches for me,” Thrasher said. “She’s got my best interest in mind and knows me better than I know myself.”
“Syd is a very smart pitcher and Piper does a great job calling her pitches,” Grant said.
Sparta (2-2) matched Clever with seven hits. Avery Leyland tripled and scored two runs and McKenzie Wilson drove in three runs. But the Lady Trojans were shut out over the sixth and seventh.
Clever 8, Sparta 5
CLEVER (ab-r-h-bi) — King 2-1-0-1, Thrasher 4-1-0-1, Sidham 4-1-2-2, Cheney 4-0-1-0, S. Thrasher 4-0-1-2, Twigg 1b 4-1-0-1, Hedge 4-1-1-0, Steele 3-2-0-0, Moore 3-1-2-1.
SPARTA — Fulton 4-0-1-0, Leyland 2-2-1-0, Me. Brown 4-2-1-0, Wilks 3-1-1-1, Wilson 2-0-1-3, Ma. Brown 1b 4-0-1-1, Taylor 4-0-0-0, Gardner 3-0-0-0, Forgey 3-0-1-0.
Clever 000 020 6 - 8 7 4
Sparta 200 030 0 - 5 7 8
WP - S. Thrasher. LP - Wilks. 2b - Sidham, Wilks. 3b - Leyland.
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