Prep Athlete of the Week: MCC’s Clarke has strong comeback season

After a junior year slowed by injuries, Murray County Central’s Ashley Clarke wanted to make the best of her senior year.

And with three straight wins on the mound and solid play at the plate, she’s accomplishing what she set out to do.

“I looked at the team as a whole and thought we had a pretty good team this year if we could stay together and play our games well together,” Clarke said. “I knew that we would be very successful and have a chance of getting to state.”

The Rebels are 10-4 overall and own the Red Rock Conference title with a 9-1 record thanks in part to Clarke’s performance this season.

“She struggled last year with some injuries and different things and she didn’t have the season she expected. She really came in with the mindset that she needed to get back to dominating,” said MCC head coach James Wajer. “It was basically a clear head and focusing on what she wanted and what she wanted to do. Her teammates have been there for her. They’ve picked her up and she’s picked them up at times.”

In her last three games Clarke has struck out 16 batters and threw a no-hitter against Southwestern United on May 13. At the plate she hit two home runs, three doubles and was a perfect 6-for-6 in the Rebels’ last doubleheader of the season against Adrian Area.

Clarke said it’s a big turnaround from what she went through in 2012.

“I ended up pulling a quad about our third game into last year,” Clarke said. “It was a rough year for me. I’m glad I’m out of that slump and doing as well as I am this year.”

Wajer has seen more than just a solid injury recovery in Clarke.

“It’s that focus. She goes in, she’s making adjustments when she struggles a little bit, getting after it that way,” Wajer said. “And she’s trusting her teammates. I think before she always tried to strike everyone out and that led to more walks and a lot of pitches.

“This year she’s more efficient around the zone, forcing people to hit pitcher’s pitches. That comes with maturity.”

Clarke wanted to get back to the success she saw as a sophomore and knew that her teammates would play an important part in reaching that goal.

“I know that my sophomore year I did very well pitching, so I wanted to find that person again,” Clarke said. “I’m very confident that my team is completely behind me. I just love them for that. I know they are going to be there to pick me up. It helps a lot.”

Clarke’s recent performance at the plate isn’t a surprise for Wajer, who has seen improvement in his senior.

“She’s kind of an all-or-nothing hitter. I think when she focuses and lets the ball travel in a little deeper on her and she hits from the middle out, she has that power,” Wajer said. “She hits sixth in our lineup for a reason, but at the same time she’s been so focused and her timing has been on.”

For Clarke, it’s been a change in her hitting style that has helped.

“I have my coach standing down on the third base line (telling me) that it’s 0-2 every time. It has helped a lot this year,” Clarke said. “He’s told me to be very aggressive. If it looks like a strike, swing. That’s been very helpful, too.

“I always have had those ups and downs, but I know if I can make solid contact, I know that I’ll be fine.”

Heading into the first round of the Section 3A-South playoffs, Clarke is confident in herself and her team.

“I feel that if we stick together and we’re always picking each other up we will do very, very well,” Clarke said.

The Rebels open sub-section play Tuesday in Wabasso. Third-seeded MCC faces No. 6 seed Windom Area in its opening game.